Gabriela Houston is a Polish-born British author with a knack for spinning myths into captivating modern retellings. Hot on the heels of her debut novel, The Second Bell (out from Angry Robot Books), comes her middle-grade book The Wind Child.
In anticipation of the book’s release, I have had the pleasure of talking to Gabriela about the inspirations behind the book and her unique take on Slavic folklore.
- What drew you to adopting Slavic folklore in your fantasy works?
I’m Polish, and the Slavic fairy tales were a big part of my early childhood. As I grew, I became more interested in other nations’ mythologies: Greek, Norse, and Japanese especially. But there was always this sense that there is this whole world I haven’t truly explored. And Slavic mythology is so full of wonder, and darkness, and adventure, it’s very much worth sharing.
- What was the most challenging aspect of working with Slavic folk figures and narratives?
There is very little in the way of consistency in the source materials. Unlike its Norse or Ancient Roman counterparts, Slavic mythology was never contemporarily put into a set text, detailing the pantheon and the roles of the individual spirits and creatures. What we know now, has been carefully pieced together by archeologists, comparative linguists, historians and ethnographers from folktales, songs and archeological finds. The resulting image is incomplete, and sometimes contradictory.
On the upside, writing Slavic-folklore-inspired fiction is not an exercise in academic accuracy. Like a magpie, I swoop in towards the shiny bits of research and weave them into something new. And the ambiguity around a lot of the mythological elements gives me more freedom than if I was writing novels inspired by, say, Ancient Egyptian mythology.
- I am fascinated by the Gamayun figure. What’s her story?
Gamayun was a half-eagle, half-woman, sometimes described as a creature serving the fates.
In The Wind Child, I was very interested in the complexity of belonging to more than one world. Mara, the protagonist, feels ever pulled by the two sides of her heritage, the human and the godly. Looking more like one than the other doesn’t erase the complexity of her being, and it’s something she has to come to terms with as well. Her best friend, Torniv, feels like an outcast, being the son of an absent Botrish mother, and brought up among those who despise him for it. In following Mara he ends up choosing another double existence, as it were, by becoming a bear-shifter.
In exploring those issues, I thought Gamayun would be the perfect bridge between the worlds for the two protagonists. She is the guardian of the half-things, as she describes herself, and very far from the cold perfection of the gods and the suspiciousness of the humans. She has the qualities of kindness and understanding, which are so precious and so necessary, to a child especially.
- Were there any differences between Slavic and Western supernatural beings that particularly surprised you during your research?
I wouldn’t say they surprised me, as I grew up reading both. There are some elements to Slavic folklore which are dictated by the complexities of the geopolitical landscape of the lands they stemmed from. It’s also crucial to me to separate what we know of the old Slavic mythologies from the later, Christianity-influenced interpretations.
It is my view that the ancient Slavs valued the following of the rules that secured a certain balance between the human and the spirit- and the natural worlds. Those rules might not be in your favour, but they will always be followed, even by the most vicious of creatures. And something that features prominently in Slavic folklore, for example, that I haven’t noticed to the same degree in, say, Norse mythologies, is the importance placed on the qualities of kindness and gratitude. A hero who is open and generous towards the feared and the unwanted is always rewarded, while the shifty tricksters are rejected by the humans and the gods alike.
- In both The Second Bell and The Wind Child, protagonists are raised effectively by single parents. What led you to explore this family dynamic?
I’m interested in the stories that focus on the complexities of family relationships, often in their multi-generational context.
In The Second Bell, the two main protagonists are mother and daughter, who are rejected by their own people, one because she values her child above the laws of her society, and the other for the qualities she was born with. I was interested in exploring the closeness as well as the insularity of the bond between the two of them. I wanted to show how the need to protect doesn’t just go from parent to child, but is a mutual push and pull of love, duty, and the need to keep the people we love safe and happy, even at great personal cost.
The Wind Child, in a way, is a continuation of that line of thinking. How far a child, bonded strongly with one of the parents, would go to keep that parent from harm. What would they go through to avoid having to say goodbye.
Mara’s loneliness and sense of isolation in The Wind Child, is profound, and so is her need to hold onto the one relationship which kept her grounded in her early childhood. Mara’s mother, the goddess Zevena, is a cold and distant figure, with no malice perhaps, but for a child like Mara, Zevena is simultaneously too much to strive to match, and too little when it comes to the affection and reassurance she needs.
- You describe Dogoda with stag antlers. Why that particular choice?
I like the concept of the unsettled form of the wind spirits. Shape-shifting is a very prominent motif in Slavic folklore, and it made sense for me to show this link between the God of Summer Winds and the nature we see in the summer: the lushness, the thriving life. And stag is a powerful symbol of all of that. Also, I thought it looked cool!1
- Where are Mara and Torniv going next?
The Wind Child completes the arc of Mara’s journey to rescue her father, but along the way she stirs up a lot of trouble. I hope to be able to show the world how she gets out of it in volume two, but the Gods of Book Sales must be on my side in this to allow me to release it.
The Wind Child comes out in February 2022 from UCLan Publishing, and you can read Fab’s review of it here.
1 An indulgent question on my part, since I study all manner of horned and antlered creatures in literature. In Western Europe and the US they are most likely to be based on the Horned God, a pagan deity of animals and wilderness. But it is fascinating to see how enduring this motif is across cultures and historical periods. And Gabriela is absolutely right – it does look very cool!
Libri Draconis has grown quite a bit in 2021. We now have four bloggers, each of whom brings something special and a little different to our team, and the richness of our content and the people we reach has expanded as a result. We couldn’t be happier or more grateful for how everything evolved this year; thanks to all of our readers for joining us on this journey!
As 2021 comes to a close, we wanted to share our favorite reads from the past year. We all read – and reviewed – quite a few books, and it was somewhat torturous to limit ourselves to only two favorites a piece. But! We perservered and here are Libri Draconis’s favorite books read in 2021.
Spear by Nicola Griffith – I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t end up picking a book that isn’t actually released for another four months. Spear by Nicola Griffith is out from Tordotcom in April, and is basically the queer Arthurian book of my dreams. It is a short novella, but manages to achieve what many hefty tomes don’t: it tells a complete and satisfying story in under two hundred pages. My only gripe was that I wanted more, not because the book was lacking in any way, but because the writing and worldbuilding was so wonderful that I wanted to stay in this queer and diverse interpretation of the early middle ages Griffith so vividly evokes just a little longer. And I probably should mention that the book also has one of my favourite things in the world: illustrations in a story aimed at adults. Interspersed with the narrative are gorgeous illustrations by Rovina Cai, who is one of my favourite artists in the fantasy genre. So an all-around hit, and one you should most definitely pre-order.
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston – There were a lot of books that could have occupied this slot – really all of the honorable mentions. But I decided to go with what has been my comfort book in this year of craziness. I have listened to the audiobook of One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston three times already and it is just such a delightful and comforting romance with supernatural elements. Both August Landry and Jane Su are wonderful characters, and I may be a little bit more than slightly in love with Jane myself. While the general tone is uplifting and cosy, McQuiston manages to touch on a lot of the fundamental insecurities of today’s generation of young adults, coming into working life from university and that really made me connect with the book on an emotional level. I cannot recommend this one enough.
Honorable Mentions: Sistersong by Lucy Holland, The Second Bell and The Wind Child by Gabriela Houston, Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec, A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark, Girls of Fate and Fury by Natasha Ngan, The Cabinet by Un-Su Kim, The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore, Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers, and oh SO MANY OTHERS. 2021 has been such an excellent year for books, and these choices have been extremely hard to make (I am probably going to hit my goal of 500 books read this year, so there is A LOT to choose from)!
The Devil’s Dictionary by Steven Kotler – What would you do if you could empathise with a dolphin? or a bat? What would other people do if they couldn’t? Against the backdrop of an eroding species barrier, em-tracker Lion Zorn, whose abilities allow him to read the emotional trends of crowds, tries to unravel the mystery around the disappearance of his colleagues.
It’s an exceptionally powerful read, with great dialogue; and, despite the tension, I still laughed out loud in multiple places. The premise of an emotion-based near-future sci-fi is also new and exciting. A clear favourite of the year for me.
Storyland by Amy Jeffs – These are retellings of medieval tales of legend, landscape and the yearning to belong, inhabited with characters now half-remembered: Brutus, Albina, Scota, Arthur and Bladud among them. Told with narrative flair, embellished in stunning artworks and glossed with a rich and erudite commentary… It Illuminates a collective memory that still informs the identity and political ambition of these places (Hachette).
Amy Jeffs’ Storyland is as visually striking as it is expertly researched. The illustrations and tritone decorations bring to mind the grimoires of old: this book of myths is an artefact in its own right. Another reason this is one of my favourite reads of 2021 is the sensitivity with which the tales, taken from historical sources, are updated and reimagined. You can read mine and Fabienne’s thoughts here.
Honorable Mentions: Spear by Nicola Griffith; The Second Bell by Gabriela Houston; Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M Valente; Sistersong by Lucy Holland, and Frank Herbert’s Dune (not because it’s new, but because I finally slogged through it and feel rather proud).
Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven – Everyone knows I’m a massive Grace Draven fan (for full evidence, see my essay here). But this book immediately rose to the top, taking the first place seat across all her full-length works. Not only that, it was hands down my favorite book read in 2021. It has all the hallmarks of a Grace Draven novel – prose, world-building, steam – but what really stood out to me (and wrecked me for days after) was the Romance. The characters are survivors of deep trauma – these are two deeply broken souls. And yet they perservere. They keep surviving. They rise above their pasts with the help of each other and the help of community to find a new path for themselves and, as canon epic fantasy, a future for their world. They find love, in the most unlikely of circumstances, and they are both the better for it, individually and as a couple. Absolutely beautiful, poignant, and well-crafted Fantasy Romance.
The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams – I know, I know – I’m so behind. This (comparatively) short novel of Osten Ard came out in 2017, but I didn’t read it until this year, and you’d expect Brothers of the Wind, which came out in 2021, to be on this list instead. Alas, it’s sitting on my Kindle and I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Better late than never, right? No surprise that my second favorite book of 2021 comes from another favorite author of mine – Tad Williams. The story of what happens after the epic battle at the end of To Green Angel Tower provides a thought-provoking look at both the history of the Norns and the atrocities of war. The writing, world-building, and masterful use of POVs all contribute to creating deep empathy for the various characters on both sides of the siege and their plights. It was a pleasure to return to the world of Osten Ard, and hopefully I will be able to do so once again sooner rather than later!
Honorable Mentions: Girl Meets Duke series by Tessa Dare; Piranesi by Susanna Clarke; The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne; Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie; Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas; A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh; The Labyrinth Gate by Kate Elliott; Beautiful Player by Christina Lauren
There are so many brilliant books out in 2022 – it was tough to choose what to include, and this list is in no way comprehensive. There are bound to be a ton of books that we missed despite our best efforts (I especially have been working on this almost daily for close to two months – and if you know of a book that really should be on here, do give us a shout and we’ll consider adding it!) – and do remember that we’ll continue to post monthly hype posts into next year too. For easy access, you can see those books that are available on Bookshop in a handy list here (also contains some earlier volumes in series that are mentioned in this post to tide you over while waiting). And now, enjoy the UTTER DESTRUCTION OF YOUR TBR.
Fab: The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder, out on January 11th, is pitched as Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones, and damn, that’s a tempting pitch. From the blurb: “Filore, a treasure hunter with a knack for riddles, is busy running from her own deadly curse, when she pricks her finger on a spindle. Bound to the sleeping prince Briar Rose with the spindle’s magic – and chosen as the only person who can wake him – Fi is stuck with the prince’s ghost until she can break his ancient curse and save his kingdom. She’s going to need a partner. A warrior huntswoman with an axe to grind (literally), Shane couldn’t care less about curses and ancient texts. But instead of riches, the two girls find trouble.” Sounds like a great sapphic YA fantasy. And not long to wait – pre-order your copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: In 2021, H.M. Long debuted with Hall of Smoke, a Viking inspired fantasy which I thought was a really great debut and did some very interesting things around gods and their roles in the lives of mortals. With Eangi Hessa, Long created a wonderfully flawed leading character, and I can’t wait to read more of her adventures in the sequel. Temple of No God is out on January 18th and follows Hessa as she has to keep up the tentative peace she brokered at the end of the first book and face new threats. These are great books for anyone who likes historical fantasy, Grimdark, and Vikings. Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link)
Fab: Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli promises to be a wonderful, lyrical story reminiscent of fairy tales. Out on January 18th, this is the story of Emeline, who has always been pursued by the mysterious forest of Edgewood. And now her grandfather has gone missing, almost without a trace. So she finally gives in to the call of the forest and finds herself dealing with the fabled Wood King. Not only does the blurb sound enchanting, the cover is absolutely stunning too. Yes, I want Emeline’s dress, complete with live flowers. Pre-order Edgewood from Book Depository here.
Fab: My favourite books to write about here are ones that I know I have already acquired for myself. Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan is one of those – while it’s not out until January 20th, I have already managed to sneak an eARC and to read and review it! Check out my review over at Grimdark Magazine here. This debut fantasy is inspired by the legend of the Chinese Moon Goddess, Chang’e and is the first in a duology. It’s lyrical, magical and exactly the kind of thing that I will fall in love with. Xingyin grew up hidden away on the moon, but as her magical powers begin to bloom she is forced to flee and is plunged into perilous adventures. Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Gabriela Houston’s The Second Bell was one of my favourite debuts of 2021. Atmospheric, haunting and a compelling story about a mother and her child in a fantastical world inspired by Eastern European mythology. So I’m very excited for her first children’s book, which is coming out on February 3rd. The Wind Child tells the story of Mara, the granddaughter of Stribog, the god of winter winds, who is determined to get her beloved father back from Navia, the Slavic afterlife. There’s just one problem: no one has ever returned from Navia. Together with her best friend Torniv, a bear-shifter, she sets out on an epic adventure. I read this last week, and it is as brilliant as it sounds – review will be up soon but rest assured that it comes with the highest of recommendations. Pre-order your own copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: I’m glad I waited with posting this list, because Elle McNicoll’s Like A Charm was only announced YESTERDAY! Her third book – and first fantasy novel – will be out on the third of February and I could not be more excited. I loved both A Kind of Spark and Show Us Who You Are and I can’t wait to meet Ramya, the dyspraxic heroine of Like A Charm. From the blurb: “Edinburgh is a city filled with magical creatures. No one can see them… until Ramya Knox. As she is pulled into her family’s world of secrets and spells, Ramya sets out to discover the truth behind the Hidden Folk with only three words of warning from her grandfather: Beware the Sirens. Plunged into an adventure that will change everything, Ramya is about to learn that there is more to her powers than she ever imagined.” Purely delightful! You can pre-order Like A Charm via Waterstones here.
Fab: Rebecca Ross has been enchanting YA readers for a while, and now she has her sights set on the adult audience with A River Enchanted, out on February 3rd (15th in the US). It has two gorgeous covers in the UK and the US, but I think I slightly prefer the US one (which is the one you see here) because of it’s medieval vibes. The story is set on the Isle of Cadence, haunted by spirits who find mischief in playing with the inhabitants’ lives. They can only be controlled through a bard’s song, so as girls go missing, Adaira, heiress of the East has to band together with the last bard capable of the feat: Jack Tamerlaine, her childhood enemy. A story of working together despite the odds, of darker secrets lurking below the surface and uncanny happenings. And perhaps even an enemies-to-lovers trope if I’m a lucky Fab? Pre-order A River Enchanted from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Anna: Academic and speculative fiction author Adam Roberts has a knack for imagining alternative realities that seem almost plausible. This one features a ‘smart’ device (that is part-social media platform, part-body modification, part-cult experience), sentient robots, and malevolent AIs. Split across multiple timeframes, the blurb promises The This will ask tough questions about our dependence on technology. I’ve had the pleasure of being taught by Roberts as an undergraduate, have followed his writing since then, and can attest that his books always elicit a strong response (probably in the form of me yelling at my kindle). Out in the UK and US February 3rd. Pre-order via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Witches are my kryptonite. Especially witches in exciting middle grade fantasy adventures. So of course I’m hyped for The Witch, The Sword, and the Cursed Knights by Alexandria Rogers, out on February 8th. Twelve-year-old Ellie tries to eschew her hated witch heritage by joining the Fairy Godmother Academy. But instead she is drafted to the dreaded Arthurian Round Table, a draft which she can only get out of by saving a lost cause. This throws her together with Caedmon, a boy from Wisconsin who doesn’t believe magic is real, and they both have to accept their lives and destinies in order to survive and save their worlds. Pre-order this one from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Anna: I am here for occult libraries! From the adventures of Thursday Next to the Clayr’s Library in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, quiet stacks and dusty tomes have been my jam. And A. J. Hackwith’s The Library of the Unwritten unites my love of libraries with my second favourite setting – Hell! The third instalment of the series, The God of Lost Words follows Claire, a former librarian, and her allies’ quest to rescue the Library of the Unwritten, a place where stories unfinished by their authors go, from the infernal general Malphas. And that may just require destroying the library first. I look forward to diving back into Hackwith’s imaginative world and reuniting with the characters on February 8th. Pre-order The God of Lost Words here, and catch up with books one and two, The Library of the Unwritten and The Archive of the Forgotten here and here via Bookshop (affiliate links).
Fab: Give a Fab a speculative YA anthology with a host of diverse authors and they will be very happy. Reclaim the Stars, edited by Zoraida Córdova and out on February 15th is exactly that kind of book. The anthology features seventeen stories about space in all shapes and forms written by authors of Latin American descent. From the blurb: “Reclaim the Stars is a collection of bestselling and acclaimed YA authors that take the Latin American diaspora to places fantastical and out of this world. From princesses warring in space, to the all too-near devastation of climate change, to haunting ghost stories in Argentina, and mermaids off the coast of the Caribbean. This is science fiction and fantasy that breaks borders and realms, and proves that stories are truly universal.” If that doesn’t tempt you, I don’t know how to get you reading… Pre-order a copy from Book Depository here.
Fab: I have been excited for The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield since I met the author in early 2020 at my last pre-covid book event and heard her talking about it. On February 17th, it will finally be available to the public (though I do have an eARC and will hopefully be able to provide you lovely readers with a review before then, even if I’m very sad that I don’t have one of the lovely gold-foiled physical ARCs). This is a story of two sisters, of magic, of spells that end up leading to a rivalry that will affect all of Europe because of who they are: Marie Antoinette and her sister Charlotte. I love historical witchy books, so I’m sure this will be right up my alley. Pre-order this from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: This is the rarest of occurrences: A book on a yearly preview that I’ve not only read but reviewed already. Only a Monster by Vanessa Len is out on February 22nd, and you can find my full review here. This is a deliciously addictive YA fantasy set in London (which is always a bit of a plus in my book) playing with some interesting questions around morality. The magic in this book has Joan, the main character, and her family of so-called monsters able to steal life time from humans in order to travel across time. But there is a hero created to stop them all… I thoroughly enjoyed this one and highly recommend it. It’s fantastic escapism and exactly what I want from my YA (I just wish it was a little queerer, but you can’t always have everything). Pre-order it via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Sun: Vampires and archives. Literally, the only way this book could be more enticing for me is if it came with a bowl of noodles. Dead Collections by Isaac Fellman is out 22nd February. From the blurb: When archivist Sol meets Elsie, the larger than life widow of a moderately famous television writer who’s come to donate her wife’s papers, there’s an instant spark. But Sol has a secret: he suffers from an illness called vampirism, and hides from the sun by living in his basement office. On their way to falling in love, the two traverse grief, delve into the Internet fandom they once unknowingly shared, and navigate the realities of transphobia and the stigmas of carrying the “vampire disease.” Then, when strange things start happening at the collection, Sol must embrace even more of the unknown to save himself and his job. This sounds like it bounces through several genres in the best kind of way and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out. You can pre-order this one from Amazon here.
Fab: If you’ve ever spoken about books with me at any length, I’ve probably talked your ear off about medieval retellings. Especially the need for more diversity, because the middle ages were not this white and homogenous period as is often said. So you bet I’m very excited about Aminah Mae Safi’s Travelers Along the Way, which is part of the Remixed Classics series and out on the 1st of March. And no, we’re not talking about the fact that basically every single title in that series appears on this list. Nope. Anyway, this remix takes the classic story of Robin Hood and sets it in the Holy Land instead of the forest of Sherwood and centres two Muslim girls who, together with their band of misfit traveling companions, get swept up in the Third Crusade and the fight for Jerusalem. I have been reading this one on my way to work these last few days and it’s as good as it sounds – review to come soon and highly recommended. Pre-order this from Book Depository here.
Fab: Hi it’s me, the resident V.E. Schwab fangirl. I pretty much love everything she writes, so I’m extremely hyped for Gallant, which is a standalone out on the 1st of March. Both the US and UK versions are gorgeous, but I’m partial to the Titan cover, which is the one you see here. This is pitched as The Secret Garden meets Stardust, and is the story of sixteen year old Olivia Prior, an orphan who does not have a voice. Raised in a boarding school, she is summoned to a mysterious estate by an estranged uncle. Only, when she gets there, he has died, and she is set very odd rules and things aren’t quite what she expected… I love me a gothic mystery and you bet that I’ve already started begging for an ARC. Pre-order your own copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: The Book of Living Secrets by Madeleine Roux was actually on my most anticipated list for 2021 already as its release date was pushed. It is now coming out on March 1st. This falls into one of my favourite tropes, stories about books. Adelle and Connie are best friends – and no matter how different they may be, they share a love for the novel Moira. So when they are offered an opportunity to travel inside the book, they can’t resist. Except, once there, the story isn’t quite as they remember it, and they have to rely on their wits if they want to make it out alive as their dream turns into a nightmare. This sounds like such fun – and an exploration of a daydream most of us readers will have had many times over. I for one am not sure how long I’d make it in some of my favourite books… Pre-order this from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Out on March 3rd, Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments is the second book in T.L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights series. I really enjoyed The Library of the Dead, the first book, which came out in spring 2021 (see my review here), so I’m really excited to see where the story takes Ropa next. This is a really interesting fantasy series aimed at a crossover audience, blending an Edinburgh setting with Zimbabwean magic. This second book sees Ropa investigate a mysterious illness at a hospital for magical ailments, and leads her to one of the oldest schools for magic in Scotland (which still doesn’t accept female students…). I’m sure this too will be brilliant! Order a copy of The Library of the Dead to keep yourself occupied here, and pre-order Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments here (affiliate links).
Fab: Basically every Anna-Marie McLemore book I have read has been a five-star read. So it’s no wonder that they are featured twice on this list. First up is Lakelore, out on March 8th. This pretty much promises to be their queerest book yet, which, knowing their work, means a lot. It features two non-binary protagonists – something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. From the blurb: “Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.” But then the boundaries between the worlds start to blur, and the two have to start trusting each other and talking to the other, something they haven’t done in years. I’m already prepared for gorgeous writing and to get my heart broken. Pre-order this one from Book Depository here.
Fab: Look at how gorgeous the cover for A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft is. This story of alchemists and the hunt for a mythical creature is also out on the 8th of March. This promises to be a dark and haunting story of outcasts, unlikely love and magic that takes over the protagonists lives. I love that so many of these stories are set in atmospheric forests, which is probably my favourite fantasy setting of them all. 2022 is spoiling me so damn much. You can pre-order this one from Book Depository here.
Fab: One For All by Lillie Lainoff is also being released on March 8th. This is a genderbent retelling of The Three Musketeers with a disabled protagonist, and damn do I need this in my life. Tania’s chronic illness is based on the author’s own experience with POTS, and it is probably the first book to ever feature a protagonist with this illness – and especially one that has her be a sword-fighter. While these experiences are very different from the chronic issues I face in my own life I think a lot of the broader experiences will resonate with me and so I can’t wait to read about a heroine who kicks ass while dealing with a lot of shit from her own body, never mind the people around her. Pre-order a copy from Book Depository here.
Fab: If there’s one form of art that I’ve always loved, it’s maps. Growing up as the daughter of a geographer, questions such as “where is this place?” were often greeted with “go get an atlas and look it up”, so I learned how to read maps very early on, and they have a comforting familiarity as well as remind me of my mum. So I’m very intrigued by The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd, out on March 15th. This is described as a highly imaginative thriller about a young woman who discovers that a strange map in her deceased father’s belongings holds an incredible, deadly secret—one that will lead her on an extraordinary adventure and to the truth about her family’s dark history. A love letter to maps, family secrets AND V.E. Schwab comps? Count me in. Pre-order this via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Apart from books, the other thing I love more than anything is tea. (and cats, but that’s not relevant right now) A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin combines the two things masterfully. Out on March 22nd, this YA fantasy features a magical tea making competition, and so is best enjoyed along with a cup of your favourite brew. It is the first in a duology, and you don’t even have to wait long for book two – A Venom Dark and Sweet is out in August already! Backstabbing, deceit and poison tea, as well as a competition element, this sounds like a wonderful Asian-set story. Pre-order it from Book Depository here.
Fab: I’ve really enjoyed much of Tara Sim’s YA work, so I’m intrigued to see where her adult fantasy takes us. The City of Dusk is out on March 22nd and billed as having bone and shadow magic, vengeful gods and a set of chosen ones who aren’t happy about their status. There are four gods, and four heirs to the gods, and their realms converge in the City of Dusk. But now, the gods have withdrawn their favour, and the realms are dying – except that the heirs won’t let that happen if they have anything to say about it. This sounds like a fun epic fantasy on the darker side of things! Pre-order this from Book Depositoy here.
Fab: The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller has one of the most gorgeous covers of 2022. And it comes out on March 22nd, the day before my birthday, so I think someone should order this for me as a birthday present. Because this isn’t only pretty but it also sounds awesome and features a witch – a necromancer to be precise. Charm is the last in her line of necromantic practicioners, and she is both a whore and the Emperor’s concubine. And now she’s been summoned to his deathbed to solve his impending murder (which he believes was committed by one of his sons, and thus affects the future of the entire empire). Sounds like a brilliant book! Pre-order from Book Depository here.
Fab: Until the Last of Me by Sylvain Neuvel is the second book in his Take Them to the Stars series. Following up on 2021’s A History of What Comes Next, this continues Mia’s story as she strives to make space travel happen for humanity. I absolutely loved the first book – I had an audio-arc and liked it so much I got myself a Goldsboro edition – so I’m very hyped for this second installment to come out on March 29th. These books are smart, tongue-in-cheek and just plain brilliant. Highly recommended if you like space and intelligent, high-concept fiction. Pre-order via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: There are few covers that scream Fab as much as Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May, out on March 31st (so basically a birthday present for me). Just look at this occult historical beauty. This is a sapphic witchy book which you all know is my exact favourite thing so I’m expecting this to be a 5 star read. I have also already begged the publicist for an ARC so hopefully you’ll get a review soon-ish. This is set in a Great Gatsby-esque world of opulence, but instead of silly men being content in their mediocrity, this features beautiful women, wicked blood bargains and enigmatic witches. Absolute Fabnip. Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Out on April 12th, Emily X.R. Pan’s An Arrow to the Moon is pitched as Romeo and Juliet meets Houyi & Chang’e from Chinese Mythology. So another fairy tale atmosphere story that will steal my heart. I adored Emily’s debut, The Astonishing Color of After, which was haunting and lyrical and I did not expect to fall for as hard as I did, so I fully expect to love this one too, especially as this is much more my genre. It sounds like a sweet contemporary fantasy about Hunter and Luna, two teens who are utterly different, and find their lives upended as they fall in love – with a heavy dose of secrets and magic. And just look at this amazing cover. Pre-order this one via Book Depository here.
Fab: Give me a cover this gorgeous and tell me that the book’s comps are Gideon the Ninth and The Ten Thousand Doors of January and damn, if that’s not a book I’ll be all over. Saint Death’s Daughter by C.S.E. Cooney is out on April 12th, and I can’t wait to dive into my ARC soon. Just read this blurb: “To be born into a family of royal assassins pretty much guarantees that your life is going to be… rather unusual. Especially if, like Miscellaneous “Lanie” Stones, you also have a vicious allergy to all forms of violence and bloodshed, and an uncanny affinity for bringing the dead back to life. To make matters worse, family debt looms – a debt that will have to be paid sooner rather than later if Lanie and her sister are to retain ownership of the ancestral seat, Stones Manor. Lanie finds herself courted and threatened by powerful parties who would love to use her worryingly intimate relationship with the goddess of death for their own nefarious ends. But the goddess has other plans…” You can get your very own copy via Book Depository here.
Fab: Another queer fantasy YA thriller for me to get excited over. I am easy to please, if you haven’t noticed yet. Out on April 12th, The Drowning Summer by Christine Lynn Herman is about three murdered teens, six years ago – a time known as the drowning summer – and two girls tangled up in the mystery of it all. Evelyn’s father was accused of the murders, the charges only dropped because she summoned a spirit to clear his name. But that doesn’t mean that the community trusts them. And while Mina’s family has worked as mediums for generations, she’s been shut out of the family business. When a summoning goes very wrong, the two girls have to work together to figure out how to fix things and find out what happened six years ago… Pre-order this one via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Spear by Nicola Griffith isn’t out until April 19th but I’ve already managed to get my hands on a copy and it’s probably the best novella I’ve read all year. This is pretty much the well-researched diverse queer Arthurian story of my dreams. You can check out my full review on Grimdark Magazine here, but rest assured that this is a book I wholeheartedly recommend. Peretur, a young woman , ends up at the Arthurian court, where she is mistaken for a man and ends up involved in the quest for the Grail… And do I even need to mention that the book is illustrated by Rovina Cai? An adult book illustrated on the inside?! Pre-order this from Book Depository here.
Fab: I adored Jennifer Saint’s debut, Ariadne, in 2021 (see my review here), and thought that cover was absolutely stunning. But her sophomore novel, Elektra, is even more beautiful. Out on April 22nd, this tells the story of three women: Elektra, her mother Clytemnestra and the woman cursed to prophecy the brutal events to befall them all, Cassandra. I look forward to reading another nuanced reworking of Greek mythology, focusing on the perspectives of the often passive women. This is sure to be a great read, and if you haven’t read Ariadne yet, I recommend you get a copy of that while you wait for Elektra to be released. You can order a copy of Ariadne here and Elektra here via Bookshop (affiliate links).
Fab: T. Kingfisher has a tendency to write comfort reads. And Nettle and Bone, out on April 26th sounds like it will fit that bill perfectly. Growing up under an abusive prince, Marra has realised that no one will save her and her sisters if she doesn’t do it herself. Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill the prince – if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning… This, like many of Kingfisher’s stories is one of a motley crew, an itinerant quest and humour. Oh, and there’s a chicken possessed by a demon, which might be a selling point too. You can order this one from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Unicorns have been pink, fluffy and cute for far too long. So, I’m thrilled for Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A.F. Steadman, out on April 28th. This middle grade fantasy debut presents unicorns as deadly beasts – more akin to dragons than innocent creatures. Skandar has always wanted to become a unicorn rider. And how, he’s finally getting ready to take his Hatchery Exam. But when his exam is stopped and a thief steals the most powerful unicorn out there, Skandar realises that becoming a rider is far more dangerous than he expected. In typical middle grade fashion, he is drawn into epic battles, big time magic and adventures bigger than expected. This sounds like a hoot, and I’ll be reading this as soon as I can. Pre-order it from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: So Xiran Jay Zhao convinced me that they can write pretty damn well with their #1 NYT Bestselling debut Iron Widow. Which means that I’m now going to devour anything they write – especially if it sounds as tempting as Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor. Out on May 3rd, this is a Percy Jackson-style middle grade fantasy adventure based on Chinese mythology. Zack is very surprised when he learns that he’s supposed to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China to help seal the Underworld, and when the possession goes wrong, and the Emperor accidentally possesses Zack’s AR gaming headset, all hell breaks loose. This leads to a merry chase through China, to save both the world and his mum. FUN! Pre-order this from Book Depository here.
Out on May 3rd, When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill features a world in which thousands of women have spontaneously transformed into dragons. Set in an alternate version of the 1950s, in which the Mass Dragoning of 1955 has taken place – an event which caused women, seemingly chosen at random, to transform into dragons, complete with talons, wings and fire-breathing abilities. And, they are never spoken of again. This is the world Alex Green grows up in and has to make sense of. A world in which women are kept small, where they disappear, where there is a desperate need for answers but the questions aren’t asked. This sounds brilliant and unique and I need it. Pre-order a copy via Book Depository here.
Fab: Holly Black is a huge name in YA, and on May 3rd, she’s set to take the adult fantasy world by storm with Book of Night. This is the story of Charlie Hall, who lives in a world where shadows can be altered – for entertainment, cosmetic preferences, but also power. They can be used to manipulate emotions. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own. And Charlie’s a con-artist trying to survive and make a life in this world while working as a bartender. I love the concept of the shadow magic, and am really looking forward to seeing how Holly Black’s writing transitions to the adult market. Pre-order this one via Book Depository here.
Fab: Miss the comfort of Harry Potter from your childhood but not the transphobia and lack of diversity? Dhonielle Clayton’s got you covered. Her first middle grade, The Marvellers is being published on May 3rd and features a global magic school in the sky and a black girl protagonist. Just read this description of the school from the blurb: “Marvellers from all around the world come together to practice their cultural arts like brewing Indian spice elixirs, practicing Caribbean steel drum hypnosis, and bartering with fussy Irish faeries.” This sounds like an amazing place and I am so looking forward to diving into this world of international magic, drawing on such a variety of heritage. Add in main character Ella having to prove herself as the first Conjurer to attend the school and all sorts of weird things going on and you’ve got a great sounding book right there! Pre-order via Book Depository here.
Fab: Out on May 3rd, Tori Bovalino’s Not Good For Maidens is a retelling of Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market”. The blurb sounds so delicious: “Lou never believed in superstitions or magic–until her teenage aunt Neela is kidnapped to the goblin market. The market is a place Lou has only read about–twisted streets, offerings of sweet fruits and incredible jewels. Everything–from the food and wares, to the goblins themselves–is a haunting temptation for any human who manages to find their way in. Determined to save Neela, Lou learns songs and spells and tricks that will help her navigate this dangerous world and slip past a goblin’s defenses–but she only has three days to find Neela before the market disappears and her aunt becomes one of them forever. If she isn’t careful, the market might just end up claiming her too.” I can’t put it better than that – sounds like a wonderful twisty story to curl up with. You can pre-order a copy via Book Depository here.
Fab: Probably my number one comfort book of 2021 was One Last Stop. So I’m extremely excited for more sapphic Casey McQuiston. I Kissed Shara Wheeler is coming on May 3rd and not a day too soon – I can’t wait to binge it as soon as it’s out. From the blurb, this sounds like Shara is an absolute disaster bi which I thoroughly identify with – and she’s gone missing. And the girl and guys she’s made out with have to find her. I’m not sure whether this is more rom-com or actually has a supernatural twist like One Last Stop, but either way, I’m here for it and it sounds heartwarming and hilarious. Pre-order this via Book Depository here.
Fab: I’ve wanted to read one of Ryan La Sala’s books for ages – and while they all sound like a hoot, The Honeys is the most me of them so far. Out on May 3rd, this features Mars, a genderfluid protagonist, which I’m especially excited to read about. It is also a dark academia book, so double excitement. Mars has always been the lesser twin. But when his sister dies, he attends her prestigious school in her stead, and gets involved with her group of friends, called the Honeys, equally beautiful and terrifying. And Mars is convinced that they have something to do with his sister’s death… Pre-order The Honeys from Book Depository here.
Fab: Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire is the follow-up to the fantastic Middlegame. This one is out on May 3rd and features a new cast of characters. This follows Melanie, who has a tragic destiny, and Harry, who doesn’t want to believe in destiny because that would mean accepting losing the person who lights up his life. So of course they are excited when a new road presents itself… But if you’ve read Middlegame, you already know about the weird things that come with walking down that particular road. I’m excited to dive back into that world. Pre-order this one from Book Depository here.
Fab: My first history obsession as a kid was with Pompeii, and a few years ago I got to actually fulfill my dream of visiting the site. So it’s no wonder that I loved Elodie Harper’s The Wolf Den (see my review here) – and got to see it used to tick off another bucket list dream, when the publisher used my review as part of the endorsements printed in the paperback edition. Of course I can’t wait to see where the story goes in The House With the Golden Door, out on May 12th. The first book follows Amara as she fights her way out of being a slave in Pompeii’s brothel, the Lupinar, and the second continues her story as she adjusts to life with a benefactor that she might not know as well as she thought she did. These books are written with compassion and a healthy dose of modern feminism and evaluate what it means to belong to oneself. If you haven’t read book one yet, you can get a copy here, and pre-order a copy of The House with the Golden Door from Bookshop here (affiliate links).
Fab: The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah is out on May 17th and is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. The story is about Loulie, the Midnight Merchant, a criminal, who steals and sells magic – illegal magic – with the help of her jinn bodyguard. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an artefact that has powers to benefit the land… but destroy all living jinn. But of course, Loulie is in a position where she doesn’t have choice, and so a magical adventure begins. It sounds amazing, and perfect for fans of S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad series. Pre-order The Stardust Thief from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Another for the queer YA brigade, Rose Szabo’s sophomore novel, We All Fall Down, out on June 7th, is about the complex networks of power and the pain that they create. From the blurb: “Moving between the decaying Old City and the ruthless New, four young queer people struggle with the daily hazards of life―work, school, dodging ruthless cops and unscrupulous scientists―not realizing that they have been selected to play in an age-old drama that revives the flow of magic through their world. When a mysterious death rocks their fragile peace, the four are brought into each other’s orbits as they uncover a deeper magical conspiracy.” Colour me intrigued. Pre-order a copy from Book Depository here.
Fab: If I had to pick some top books from my list of most anticipated, Wrath Goddess Sing by Maya Deane would be on it. Out on June 7th, this is an #ownvoices trans reworking of the Iliad. Achilles famously hides among women in the original tale, and I’ve always found that episode in the epic very interesting. And reading the blurb for this, I think that there is a very interesting story here – it will probably be one that will cause a bit of an uproar, but one that will make me fall in love. Just read this excerpt from the blurb: “Achilles has fled her home and her vicious Myrmidon clan to live as a woman with the kallai, the transgender priestesses of Great Mother Aphrodite. When Odysseus comes to recruit the “prince” Achilles for a war against the Hittites, she prepares to die rather than fight as a man. However, her divine mother, Athena, intervenes, transforming her body into the woman’s body she always longed for, and promises her everything: glory, power, fame, victory in war, and, most importantly, a child born of her own body. Reunited with her beloved cousin, Patroklos, and his brilliant wife, the sorceress Meryapi, Achilles sets out to war with a vengeance.” Squabbling gods, trans heroes for the ages – and far less toxic masculinity? I kind of suspect that this may join my all-time favourite books. Oh, and should I mention that it has Helen in an active role engineering her fortune rather than a passive damsel waiting to be fought over? Pre-order this from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid is out on June 7th, and set in the same world as their debut, The Wolf and the Woodsman, which I loved. While the two books share a secondary world, they are set in different times and places within that realm, so they are both standalones. This is a gothic horror retelling of The Juniper Tree – and I love both the genre and retellings so this will be right up my street. It tells the story of a young witch who seeks to discover her identity and to escape the domination of her wizard father during a period of shift from magic to industry. Marlinchen and her sisters are some of the last true witches – really, little more than a tourist trap – but at night they sneak out to revel in the city’s thrills, where Marlinchen meets a dancer who captures her heart. As things grow ever more fervent, a monster lurks in its midst, and Marlinchen, caught between history and progress, tradition and desire, must draw on her magic to keep the city safe and find her own place. Sounds brilliant, and I have high hopes. You can pre-order this via Book Depository here.
Fab: Out on June 14th, Valiant Ladies by Melissa Grey is a YA historical fiction novel based on real seventeenth century teens called the Valiant Ladies of Potosì. “By day Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza are proper young seventeenth century ladies. But when night falls, they trade in their silks and lace for swords and muskets, venturing out into the vibrant, bustling, crime-ridden streets of Potosí, in the Spanish Empire’s Viceroyalty of Peru. They pass their time fighting, gambling, and falling desperately in love with one another.” Queer girls spending their nights fighting with swords and pretending to be proper ladies by day? YES PLEASE. Also, why have I not read like a million stories about these girls before? I can’t wait. Pre-order Valiant Ladies from Book Depository here.
Fab: I am very excited for The Midnighters by Hana Tooke. I loved her debut, The Unadoptables, which was everything I love in middle grade, so this will be great too. Out on June 23rd, this is the story of Ema, a girl who grows up in a family of scientists. There isn’t much space there for superstition or omens, though they seem to follow her wherever she goes – and it doesn’t help that she seems able to predict things before they happen… When Ema is sent to stay with a mysterious uncle in Prague, she fears she’s lost any chance to ever fit in, but she meets Silvie, and makes a friend to go on secret midnight adventures with. But then Silvie goes missing, and it’s up to Ema to find her. Pre-order this one via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Another author on the list of Remixed Classics is Tasha Suri with What Souls Are Made Of. Out on the 5th of July, this reworks Wuthering Heights, a classic I’ve always had very mixed feelings about, so I’m very excited to see what she does with it. This Heathcliff is the son of an Indian sailor, flung into an alien life in the Yorkshire moors where he doesn’t fit. Catherine is the odd younger child, a daughter with a mother nobody talks about. She knows she must mold herself into a version that suits society even if it breaks her. The two find solace in each other and their occasional flights into the moor – and the shared half-remembered language of their unknown parents. But as in the original story, their relationship faces challenges and obstacles, and starts unraveling. I am very curious to read this version and think it sounds brilliant. Pre-order What Souls Are Made Of from Book Depository here.
Fab: I don’t think Alix E. Harrow could write a book that I don’t want to read any of these days. I recently listened to her recent novella A Spindle Splintered, and A Mirror Mended is the follow up to that. It continues Zinnia Grey’s story after she has mostly broken her own curse and started out as a professional fairy-tale fixer. And now Snow White’s evil queen wants her help to prevent her dastardly fate… This slim volume is out on June 14th, and packs a punch. Not only do these books retell fairy-tales, but they analyse them at the same time and involve a lot of meta-discussion. So, perfect for nerd me! Catch up with A Spindle Splintered here, and pre-order A Mirror Mended here.
Fab: Wake the Bones by Elizabeth Kilcoyne is giving me massive Southern Gothic vibes. Out on July 12th, this is a YA horror novel about Laurel Early, who wants nothing more than a quiet life as a tobacco hand and taxidermist after dropping out of college. But the farm has come to life, the pile of bones in front of her walked away and a devil from her past come calling. This sounds like a book that lives of its uncanny vibes and I’m all here for it. If the cover’s anything to go by in terms of atmosphere, this is going to be a brilliant read, perfect for those long summer evenings, where we all need a chill to cool us down… Pre-order this one via Book Depository here.
Fab: I’ve been excited for Silk Fire by Zabé Ellor, out on July 5th, for quite a while. But now that the gorgeous cover has been revealed too, I’m even more hyped. It features dragons, courtesans, queers and magic. So pretty much all the Fab-catnip. Read (part of) the blurb and join me in excitement: “Elite courtesan Koré knew that meddling in politics could end badly, particularly when trying to sabotage his aristocratic father’s campaign for high office before it destroys the city loves. And when a chance encounter with a dying god imbues him with magic-breathing powers, it gets worse: he suddenly becomes a commodity, one the political establishment will do anything to control.” Pre-order Silk Fire from Book Depository here.
Fab: Tentatively scheduled for July 7th, Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson’s debut The Principle of Moments is going to be your next book obsession. Think V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, but queerer, meets space opera and a fantastic heroine. This is the current blurb: “Asha Akindele lives in a future gripped by oppression, just one more human forced to assemble weapons for a war they’ll never win. Then she discovers she has a sister imprisoned by Emperor Thracin and is forced to make a choice: remain a slave, or escape and risk everything. With the help of time-traveller Obi, who just wants to return to London, 1811, and his almost-boyfriend Prince George, Asha must travel through the stars to save a sister she’s never met – and in doing so save worlds.” I can promise you that it’s absolutely brilliant and I cannot wait to see the finished product. A must to pre-order, which you can do here via Bookshop (affiliate link).
Fab: Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin is another one of those books that have been on my radar for far too long, and are finally coming out in 2022. This Filipino-inspired fantasy is being released on July 19th. This is a story of two girls from opposing cultures who fall in love and have to save their worlds while doing so. Also, they’re warriors. While this doesn’t sound like the most inventive YA fantasy ever, the Filipino setting is what makes this one stand out. And let’s be honest, I’ll always be here for sapphic YA fantasy. Pre-order this one from Book Depository here.
Fab: Dark academia and vampires sound like your jam? Then you should check out Youngblood by Sasha Laurens, out on July 19th. This is set at an elite vampires-only boarding school (it reminds me of the mountains of trashy early 2010s YA I read in the best possible way) – but it’s queer, and addresses class issues, and oh, the vampires have to drink synthetic blood because the humans have spread a virus that is toxic to vampires. The blurb hints at an enemies-to-lovers arc (my fave trope) and a lot of intrigue and dramaaaaa. Sounds like such fun. Pre-order a copy from Book Depository here.
Fab: Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is Juno Dawson’s adult debut, out from Harper Voyager on July 21st. It features a secret government agency of witches founded by Queen Elizabeth I. But when the genocide of all witches is prophecied, all hell breaks loose… Knowing Juno Dawson’s work, this will be queer as fuck and extremely political, and tackle some heavy themes in interesting ways. I can’t wait to see what she does for a more mature audience, and I was sold at queer witchy book already (yes, I’m a simple Fab). You can already pre-order copies of this beauty from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Queer witchy books are my brand. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t add The Witchery by S. Isabelle to this list. Out on July 26th, this promises to be a great YA fantasy about a town of witches, and the tensions between humans, witches and wolves. There’s a witch academy, some morally g(r)ay witches and curses that come with huge costs to break. Sounds like perfect escapism for the summer holidays and I am very excited to dive in. It reminds me a bit of Sarah Gailey’s When We Were Magic crossed with Zoraida Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas, which I both enjoyed a lot. Pre-order a copy from Book Depository here.
Fab: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is one of my favourite YA novels of all time – I loved it so much I wrote half my MA dissertation on it. I am incredibly thrilled that its sequel, Bloodmarked, is finally coming out on July 26th. And just look at the stunning cover featuring Bree and broody boy Selwyn Kane (and Excalibur!). I can’t wait to see where the story takes these characters after THAT ending. I think this series is probably the single most creative take on the Arthurian tales that is currently available, with a healthy pinch of Rick Riordan’s modern approach to mythology, a big dose of Black girl magic and a dash of the best portrayal of grief I’ve ever seen. This book resonated with me on so many levels, and I have extremely high expectations of the sequel. Get yourself Legendborn here, and pre-order Bloodmarked here.
Fab: The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne does one of my favourite things: it takes a known story, here that of Rapunzel, and retells it from a different perspective. This centres Haelwise, the witch of the tower of Gothel, the villain of the fairy tale, and tells the story from her perspective. And to me, witches and villains often have the more interesting stories to tell… So obviously I can’t wait for this to come out on July 28th (it’s a wonder writing this post isn’t sending me on a huge pre-order spree, I think it’s merely me being broke already that’s saving my bank account…). Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Out on August 11th, The Monsters We Defy by L. Penelope is further proof of the amazing streak the team at Orbit is on. It doesn’t have a cover yet, but I imagine it’ll be as stunning on the outside as the description is. This is a historical fantasy set in the Washington, DC of 1925, where a woman able to communicate with spirits has to assemble a ragtag crew to pull of a daring heist. Weaving together African American folk magic, history and romance, this sounds like a huge hit. A malevolent entity has started praying on Negro residents, and Clara Johnson is determined to figure out how to help her community. In the process, a powerful spirit tasks her to steal an ancient magical ring straight from the finger of a wealthy socialite. This leads Clara to meet Israel Lee, a supernaturally enhanced jazz musician, also trying to steal the same ring – and the two decide to band together to pull of this feat, and start building a crew… It sounds so fun, and set in a wonderful, rich world full of stunning imagery. Pre-order this from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: One of the greatest hits of 2021 was the Sapphic Trifecta. And with The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri, out on the 18th of August, the first sequel (complete with stunning cover) has been announced. This is the follow-up to The Jasmine Throne, which blew my mind earlier this year (see my review here), and continues the story of my favourite messy sapphics, Priya and Malini. This extract from the blurb shows how much Tasha will be stomping on my heart again: “Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s hearts remain as entwined as their destinies, and they soon realize they must come together again if they wish to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—no matter what it will cost them.” And masochist as I am, I can’t wait. Of course, there’s also lots of magic, prophecy and intrigue, but MALINI AND PRIYA. If you haven’t read book one yet, I suggest you get yourself a copy here while you wait, and pre-order The Oleander Sword here (affiliate links).
Fab: Another example of how a pretty cover gets a Fab to read books. Belladonna by Adalyn Grace is out on August 23rd and was on my TBR before I’d even read the blurb. But that doesn’t mean that the blurb isn’t just as seductive. This is the story of a girl who has to tangle with Death to solve a murder – Signa has been raised by a series of guardians more interested in her wealth than her well-being, all of whom have perished in unfortunate circumstances (A Series of Unfortunate Events vibes, anyone?). And now she’s with her last set of living relatives. And she’s figured out that the mother of the family was poisoned rather than died of an illness and time is running out to save the daughter, which means she has to ally with Death himself to figure out what is going on… Sounds fun and entertaining, the kind of dark YA I love. Pre-order this one from Book Depository here.
Fab: R.F. Kuang came onto the scene with her Poppy War trilogy. And now she’s back with a very different sort of book. Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translator’s Revolution is out on August 23rd and sounds absolutely amazing. This is a dark academia set in the early-ish nineteenth century, around Robin Swift, adopted from his native Canton to London, where he is trained in languages dead and alive in preparation to when he will one day join Oxford’s famous institute for translation, known as Babel – which is not only a brilliant academic institution, but a magical one. From the blurb: “Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?” It sounds like this really asks a lot of interesting questions and I am very excited to read this, combining so many of my interests. Alas, no pre-order links just yet, but keep an eye out!
Fab: Out on August 25th, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen doesn’t have a cover yet, but it has comps – and those alone got me interested. The publisher pitches this as The Princess Bride meets The House in the Cerulean Sea and if that’s not a brilliant combo in terms of vibes, I don’t know what is. It’s also got an extensive synopsis: Hart, demigod and marshal, patrolling wastelands to ensure they are clear of reanimated corpses – giving him far too much time to think about things he’d rather not think about meets Mercy, undertaker single-handedly running Birdsall & Son – despite very clearly not being a son – and having quite the opposite problem, trying to keep all those plates spinning. They bicker – but they both might have a point. And so Hart sends an anonymous letter addressed to “A Friend” via animal messenger… and to his surprise, he gets a response. If only he knew he was actually corresponding with Mercy. It sounds delightful and I can’t wait. Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here.
Fab: Sometimes all I need to know about a book is the title, and the rest is optional extras. The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean is one of those – because how could I possibly resist a title like that. It’s not out until September 1st, but my need to devour it is strong already. Just read the blurb: “Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries. Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.” AMAZING. Pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Fab: Self-Made Boys by Anna Marie McLemore, their second entry on this list, may not have a cover yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less excited for it to come out on the 6th of September. This too is part of the Remixed Classics series – a reworking of The Great Gatsby, but make it trans. This Nick is Nicolás Caraveo, a trans boy from Minnesota, who wants to establish himself in New York as a young professional, not only for his own benefit but to help his whole family. He rents a place to stay from his cousin Daisy, who has erased any trace of her Latina heritage and passes as white. Through her, he meets the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who throws extravagant parties at his castle-like mansion – largely to impress Daisy – and as Nick is pulled into Jay’s orbit, he finds out that Jay too is trans, and falls hard for this version of the American dream. I’m not the biggest fan of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but I am a massive McLemore fan and I tend to love everything they write, while also having a soft spot for very queer YA, so I expect to fall as hard for Self-Made Boys as Nick does for Jay. Pre-order this from Book Depository here.
Fab: Out on September 13th, Alexandra Overy’s The Gingerbread Witch doesn’t have a cover yet, but it nevertheless sounds delightful. This is a YA fantasy heavily influenced by fairy-tale worlds, in which young Maud has grown up in a gingerbread house, desiring nothing more than to become a witch like Mother Agatha. But like all of Agatha’s creations, she will turn back into gingerbread if anything happens to Agatha. And, after a terrible fight, Maud storms off, and when she returns, she learns that Hansel and Gretel, a pair of witch hunters, have pushed Agatha into the cottage’s oven… So it is up to Maud to find a way to save herself and the other gingerbread creations from turning back into inanimate objects – a quest far from easy, especially with witch hunters on her trail… It sounds so fun and I can totally see myself reading this while munching on a ton of gingerbread… (yes, I’m a terrible person!) Pre-order this from Book Depository here.
Fab: There is exactly one reason why I am the Twitter-obsessed weirdo I am today. And that is Susan Dennard and The Luminaries. This YA fantasy, out in October, doesn’t have a proper title yet (The Luminaries is the series title rather than the book itself), but it originally started life as a choose-your-own adventure thread on Twitter in 2019. Susan had us hooked for almost six months, following along the adventures of Winnie Wednesday, Ugh-Jay and co – and trust me when I say the hivemind was VERY STUPID. I can’t wait to see where the actually-well-written version of the story goes (check out the current version of the first chapter here), given that I’ve been a DenNerd since day 1 – I’ve read everything Susan’s published and loved it, and she’s also one of the loveliest humans I’ve ever met. If you haven’t been obsessed with The Luminaries since the beginning, this is an exciting contemporary fantasy about monster-hunting families named after the days of the week, and a story full of magic, mystery and secrecy. I NEEDS IT. Alas, no pre-order links just yet, but keep an eye out!
Fab: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig isn’t out until October 18th, but damn, if that cover and description isn’t tempting! Just looking at this image is making me think that this story is going to be dark and gloomy and atmospheric as anything and I am so excited for those vibes. Elspeth Spindle needs a monster to stay safe – one she calls the Nightmare. But magic comes with a price, and the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. Together with a mysterious highwayman, who happens to be the King’s nephew, she tries to keep control of her own mind, and cure the evil befalling their kingdom… Pre-order this one via Book Depository here.
Fab: Sir Callie and the Champion of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith isn’t out until November, so it doesn’t have a cover or exact date yet – nor any pre-order links for that matter. But this is the middle grade book of my dreams. 12-year-old Callie is non-binary, and they’re ready to smash gender rules in order to become a knight. As their dad – an ex-hero – is summon to the royal capital of Helston to train a hopeless prince, you better believe that Callie seizes that opportunity to become an official knight-in-training. But, Helston is full of people who believe only boys can be knights, and magic is for girls, so Callie and their friends will have to go and fight some bigotry before they can deal with the bigger threats. SO MUCH YES PLEASE.
Fab: It feels like this list contains far too few graphic novels, but The Marble Queen by Anna Kopp and illustrator Gabrielle Kari is here to change that. Not out until November 22nd, this doesn’t have an official cover yet, so we have to make do with the placeholder. It is a sapphic YA graphic novel with sword fighting, political intrigue and magic – so all the good things. Princess Amelia’s kingdom is in shambles, and so when she receives an offer of marriage from the royalty of the mysterious country of Iliad, she says yes without much thought. Unexpectedly, she soon finds out that her betrothed is the newly crowned Queen Salira – a situation that awakens unknown feelings in Amelia… The story also deals with anxiety, so it sounds pretty damn perfect. Alas, no pre-order links yet, but keep an eye out!
Fab: Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is still shrouded in mystery. It is announced for Fall 2022, but there is no synopsis yet, nor any pre-order links that I could find. This is the third book in Muir’s Locked Tomb series, which was only recently announced – it was originally planned to be a trilogy and now expanded into a four-book-series. I loved both Gideon and Harrow, so I can’t wait to dive back into the world of the disaster lesbian necromancers. And I’m just as excited to see Tommy Arnold’s cover art, because those covers are just glorious works of art.
Fab: We don’t have an exact date or a cover for Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk, just a vague Fall 2022 indication from the publisher. But a) Polk’s work is always fantastic (I’ve been shouting about The Midnight Bargain especially to everyone who might listen, and I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of that one here to tide you over) and b) the blurb sounds brilliant and so it deserves to be hyped far in advance. Even Though I Knew the End is a historical urban fantasy set in early twentieth century Chicago – an exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother’s life is offered one last job before facing eternity in hell… To sweeten the deal, the client offers her the one perk she can’t resist: the chance to grow old with the woman she loves. To do so, she just has to track down the White City Vampire, a notorious serial killer. In three days. Easy peasy. This sounds absolutely brilliant and I know I’ll love it – keep an eye out!
Libri Draconis has had the great honour of being part of the judging team of this year’s Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards – along with a host of other wonderful bloggers. This year’s judging team consisted of Anna (@Imyril/There is always room for one more), Adri (@adrijjy/Nerds of a Feather), Arina (@voyagerarina/The Bookwyrm’s Guide to the Galaxy), Jonny (@SFFjonbob/Parsecs & Parchment), Kris (@hammard_1987/Cloaked Creators), L.A. (Aquavenatus), Lisa (@deargeekplace/Dear Geek Place), Womble (@runalongwomble/Runalongtheshelves), Noria (@noriathereader/Chronicles of Noria), Sean (@DowieSean/Nerds of a Feather) and our very own Sun (@suncani1). Check out our launch post for the full list of nominees in all the categories here, and without further ado, here are our wonderful winners. Massive congratulations to all of the authors, we had a huge blast reading and a very difficult time choosing – and a few thoughts from the jury on all of the winning books.
Now, I’ve been reliably informed that we introduced a new sort of chaos into these awards by choosing joint winners for the category of BEST FANTASY NOVEL: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk and The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. The jury loved both of these books and this is what we said about them:
“The Midnight Bargain is not only a wonderful story about witches in a richly imagined Regency-style setting, but it’s a clever exploration of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. It is a thoroughly modern and political book while masquerading as a gorgeous escapist fantasy, and that makes it a fantastic read.”
“Alix E. Harrow has crafted something truly special with The Once and Future Witches. Her prose is by turns powerful and deft of touch, and blends together fantasy, fairytale and history into a thoroughly modern classic.”
BEST SCIENCE FICTION
The award for BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL goes to The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson, which the jury called “A beautiful intelligent story exploring the parallel worlds concept but also combining it with issues of racism, classism and yet also has a core of hope running throughout.”
BEST BLURRED BOUNDARIES
I am thrilled to be on a second jury this year to award Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She already won the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel, and now she’s also won the SKOC award for BEST BLURRED BOUNDARIES. Some thoughts from the jury: “This stylish thriller blends Gothic tropes with 50s noir and body horror. Expect modern themes of prejudice and complicity in an unapologetically creepy tale of controlling families and psychedelic fungus.”
I am especially thrilled that the award for BEST DEBUT NOVEL goes to Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn – one of my all-time favourite books. In the words ouf our jury:
“Legendborn is not only one of the most creative reworkings of Arthurian myth – making the corpus truly the author’s own – but it is a tender exploration of grief and Black girl magic in a richly crafted world touching on slavery, privilege and secret societies.”
The award for BEST NOVELLA goes to Nghi Vo and The Empress of Salt and Fortune. I loved this little novella which really packed a lot into a slim volume. Our jury said: “The Empress of Salt and Fortune is an epic tale in miniature: a mosaic of moments and manipulations that resolve into a bigger picture of rebellion.”
BEST SHORT FICTION
Our winning piece of SHORT FICTION is C.L. Clark’s “You Perfect, Broken Thing”. While this doesn’t have a shiny cover, as it’s a short story, it has a shiny link! You can read it for free over at Uncanny Magazine here and see it’s brilliance for yourself. And this is what we had to say about it:
“This is a story about an athlete competing in a Race which forces her to push her sick body to its limits to win a cure. There’s a perfect blend of camaraderie between the main character and their training partners, and the desperate, unfair competition they are pushed into to survive; these are characters still fighting in the face of constant, overwhelming struggle and that’s a powerful, challenging, necessary thing.”
BEST SERIES is awarded to R.F. Kuang for her series The Poppy War. Mindblowing, epic and brilliant, in the words of our jury:
“Based on the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), R.F. Kuang’s trilogy starts off as an academic fantasy, transforms into a military historical fantasy, and ends as a grimdark narrative. This Asian-inspired series delves into the layers and the consequences of power and warfare.”
This is a somewhat special post. The Cheltenham Literature Festival is running from the 8-17 of October 2021 and has a fabulous programme full of interesting events around books and literature. To get the word out, Midas PR invited me and a whole bunch of other bloggers on a huge book tour to spotlight a surprise book from one of the authors featured at the festival! You can see the full schedule for week one of the tour up top – it’s a two week tour.
I was sent the wonderful Grimwood by Nadia Shireen, who will be doing an in-person event at the festival on Saturday 9th of October, showing readers how she draws the characters from her book and doing a bit of a reading. You can get tickets for what is sure to be a very fun afternoon here. I loved the book so much and am already plotting how to get it into the hands of children I know.
Many thanks to Sofia Saghir at Midas PR and Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
SUMMARY: Fox cub siblings Ted and Nancy are on the run from Princess Buttons, the scariest street cat in the Big City. They flee for Grimwood, expecting to find refuge in the peaceful countryside. Instead, they are met with thieving eagles, dramatic ducks, riotous rabbits and a whole host of unusual characters. Grimwood is… weird. But when Princess Buttons tracks them down, Nancy and Ted and the animals of Grimwood must unite in a mind-bending race against time… (from Simon and Schuster)
OPINIONS: Grimwood is absolutely delightful. It is laugh-out-loud funny, adorable and just a fantastic children’s book. I devoured it in a single sitting and it massively improved both my day and my mood and I want to throw this at every single child I know. The story follows fox siblings Ted and Nancy who are sweet and charming, crafty and prone to mischief as they get themselves in and out of trouble. An unfortunate incident with resident mean cat Princess Buttons sees them running to Grimwood where they meet new friends and get into many new adventures – and ultimately have to face their enemy again.
This is probably good to be read to kids five and up, and easy enough for young readers getting comfortable reading on their own to understand and read. It is highly illustrated throughout in black and white, which further enhances it and makes Grimwood a lovely packaged book. This is definitely one to watch and I can see Nadia Shireen being a major new children’s author for years to come.
If you have children in your life in any way, they’ll probably enjoy this. I think it’s best suited for ages seven to nine, but grown-up me loved it too. You can experience the magic of Grimwood by adding it on Goodreads here or ordering it from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Like many patrons of this blog, I possess an unabashed gluttony for books. I’m a voracious reader, but a voracious reader that is keenly aware of her preferences. I would characterize myself primarily as a genre reader. Yes, I appreciate and regularly read the Classics. And yes, I read the occasional piece of literary fiction or non-fiction recommended by a friend or family member. But the vast majority of the content I read falls squarely into one of two genres: Fantasy or Romance.
And also, like many patrons of this blog, I am continually in pursuit of those perfect books, books that speak to my soul, books that seem to have been written just for me, because they deliver on all the elements of literature that matter to me specifically. These perfect books cater to my literary preferences, they resonate with my life experiences, and they scratch the itch of how I like to be entertained.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on what the search for those perfect books looks like for me as a reader and why, especially with respect to an author that I have found consistently delivers content that is thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying for me personally: Grace Draven. This essay attempts to unpack my thoughts on Fantasy-Romance and explain my appreciation for Grace Draven’s works as first-class examples of both genres.
The title of this post makes a bold claim – “The Best Epic Fantasy Author You’re Not Reading” – and I admit to being provocative in the title. While Grace Draven is often included in Romance recommendation threads, you don’t often, if ever, see her name in recommendations outside of that context, or more specifically in requests for Epic Fantasy. My hope is that by reading this, Romance-wary, Epic Fantasy fans might decide to pick up one of her books and discover what an amazing fantasy author she is, and that her name will start to materialize in Epic Fantasy discussions and not “just” Romance. And for Romance readers out there that are unfamiliar with her work, here’s hoping you decide to dive in to one of her fantastical worlds.
My search for the next perfect book often begins perusing selections from the branch of speculative fiction that I prefer above all others – Epic, or Heroic, Fantasy. When I think about what appeals to me within the Epic Fantasy subgenre, the immediate answer, for me, is the scale of the world-building. I enjoy being completely immersed in another world, and I want to explore that world in detail with the characters through the plot. I want that world to contain lands, climates, races, and magic that is truly outside the realm in which I exist. I want to be transported to another time and place so different from my own, that when I enter that world through reading, my own ceases to exist.
Layered on top of this world is a plot that is equally epic in scale, where the actions of the protagonists and the battles they face have world-changing consequences. There is good and evil, and our heroes must overcome both external and internal conflicts to ultimately defeat that evil. My favorite fantasy authors are my favorite fantasy authors because they deliver on these two aspects of Epic Fantasy; Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, and J.R.R. Tolkien are writers whose world-building and plots are expansive yet detailed, imaginative yet grounded, and high-stakes yet personal.
My search for perfect books also seeks out the aspects of the Romance genre that I find especially enjoyable. While the primary relationship-building is essential, (and, personally, I like some steam), the biggest draw for me is the superb characterization delivered by the genre. I often see Fantasy readers requesting “character-driven” books or “strong character-building,” and honestly, when I read that, I immediately want to direct them to a Fantasy Romance. The depth of characterization in a Romance novel is often unparalleled. Because the Romance genre focuses on the relationship of the couple as the primary plot, Romance authors must necessarily delve deeply into the backstory, motivations, and struggles of the characters in order to establish the basis for and evolution of their relationship. The characters must change or evolve in some significant way as part of the romantic plot in order for the resolution of the relationship to occur. The depth of characterization required to do this well leads to three-dimensional, well-balanced characters, fleshed out to a degree that you may not otherwise experience, and an investment in their success as individuals and as a couple that results in a thoroughly satisfying ending. You won’t find much better characterization than in a good Romance book!
Understanding what appeals to me from each genre helps focus my search on the next perfect book. I want a book that checks all of these boxes, a book that delivers the best of what both Fantasy and Romance has to offer. I want a full, A-plot, adult Romance that is richly developed with nuanced characters right alongside the heroic quest set in a deeply imaginative world. Over the course of the past several years, I have found several of these diamonds-in-the-rough: Milla Vane’s A Heart of Blood and Ashes, Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles series, and C.L. Wilson’s The Winter King, to name a few. But I have also found an author who’s entire canon consistently and adeptly delivers on the promises and expectations of both the Epic Fantasy and Romance genres: Grace Draven.
I am convinced that fantasy fans that have not taken the plunge and read a Grace Draven book are missing out on one of the best, contemporary Epic Fantasy writers out there. My goal is that this explanation of how her work delivers on the genre expectations of both Fantasy and Romance entices you to take a chance on something you may not otherwise have picked up and hopefully be pleasantly surprised.
So, how do Grace Draven’s books appeal to readers of Epic Fantasy? First and foremost, Draven’s world-building is both expansive and thorough including original magic systems, diverse races, languages, kingdoms, and cultures, and even the mundane minutiae of day-to-day life like food and attire, all of which coalesce to make for a truly immersive experience. Her attention to detail in establishing the form and function of her worlds is remarkable and serves to strengthen the authenticity of the plot and create a deeper basis and context for that plot and the characters.
Draven’s two ongoing series, The Wraith Kings and The Fallen Empire, are both set on an epic scale that is reflected in the world-building of these two worlds. Take The Wraith Kings, for example. There are multiple races, two of which are phsyically very different, and the romance plot actually brings these two races – the humans and the Kai – together. But even among the humans there are a number of courtly kingdoms politicking and vying for power as well as nomadic mountain clans that follow an entirely different social structure. Eventually, these disparate peoples must come together to fight a demon horde that threatens all of the peoples in their world regardless of race, kingdom, or alliances. There is magic in this world that is the purview of the Kai, but also a mysterious Elder race who existed long ago and holds keys to that magic. Magic, and in particular necromancy, must be used in order to summon enough power to defeat the evil and banish the horde to their alternate realm. Draven needed an expansive world to provide ample setting and context for a multi-book series based in the classic trope of good versus evil, and she delivers such a world in spades!
But the appeal doesn’t stop with world-building. Draven’s ability to weave intricate stories that consistently contain both an “A” Epic Fantasy plotline as well as an “A” Romance plotline cannot be overstated. Neither plotline feels like it is less important than the other; they stand on equal footing and are written in such a way as to contribute to and complement one another. In Master of Crows, Silhara is plagued by the demi-god Corruption and is the only sorcerer powerful enough to defeat this evil, but he knows that even his power may not be enough. Over the course of the book, the relationship between Silhara and Martise begins to develop, and we learn that Martise has latent magic that allows her to feed power to Silhara’s sorcery. Suddenly, the “A” Epic Fantasy plotline and “A” Romance plotline are thrust together in a most unexpected and yet meaningful way. Martise is completely devoted to Silhara and his quest to defeat Corruption, and Silhara knows he can use her power to feed the spells necessary for its ultimate demise. But he also knows that it will probably kill her, and using her as a vessel of power makes him no better than the slave-owners that have captured her soul and therefore her life. The Epic Fantasy and Romance plotlines present the reader with difficult moral questions and tension because of they way they are artfully woven together. Here, the sum of the parts has a far greater impact, and Draven expertly employs this structural device throughout her books.
Another aspect of her writing that will appeal to Epic Fantasy readers is that Draven does not limit explicitness to sex. Her writing is often raw and brutal, depicting violence, pain, and loss in the same detail as her sex scenes. Her books deal with dark themes like torture, slavery, inequality, and prejudice, and she doesn’t shy away from tackling these themes head on through explicit scenes. There’s a brutality in her brand of evil that is more often seen in Epic Fantasy than in Romance, but serves to enhance the authenticity of both aspects of her books; when every facet of life is depicted to the same level of detail, when it is not only sex or violence that is explicit, a balance is achieved, and the reader is left with an impression of a more realistic world in which both pleasure and pain exist on equal footing. In Phoenix Unbound, we are introduced to a throughly depraved villainess and exposed to explicit scenes of her atrocities including mass sacrifice by fire and the brutal torture of our MMC, Azarion. These scenes are more reminiscent of content you might read in grimdark, but they are not gratuitous; these scenes are purposeful in establishing the depths of the character’s evil and also as a device used to provide compelling contrast to the explicit tenderness depicted when Azarion and Gilene finally unite.
And speaking of romantic couples uniting, let’s not forget that Grace Draven also writes Romance! These relationships are adult; they are not YA, neither in age nor in content. These are adults embarking on adult relationships and is one of the things I appreciate most about her books. There is no “pining and whining.” The struggles and the concerns of the characters are not those of individuals embarking on their first relationships. These are adult men and women, experienced in life and relationships and wrestling with internal and external struggles commensurate with their age and maturity. And oh is it refreshing! Her romances are high-tension and the resulting pay-off is quite satisfying. When couples do come together in her books, the sex is steamy and explicit. It is well-written in that the scenes are never sappy or cringey, they are long enough to be engaging without becoming a focal point, and, most importantly, they contribute to the romantic plotline as opposed to being merely gratuitous.
Finally, and independent of the Fantasy and Romance genre expectations, I find Draven’s prose, for lack of a better word, delicious. It’s meaty. It has pulp. Something you can sink your teeth into. It is eloquent and elevated without being purple or dense; there are no extraneous words – every word is perfectly placed. I would go so far as to call her prose “literary.” Her word choice is often surprising, yet refreshing, pulling from vocabulary I’d like to see more of in writing today. Her phrasing and imagery compliment the tone of her books as well as her world-building and plotting in a way that amplifies setting and action; in other words, her writing serves to enhance the overall reader experience.
Some of you may be thinking, “Alright, Kat, I’m sold. Grace Draven sounds like an amazing Epic Fantasy author and I’d like to give her a shot, but where should I start?” Great question! To help guide new readers of Draven’s work pick something that might resonate with their particular tastes, here is a list of her seven full-length novels (in order of publication) that includes a break-down of both Fantasy and Romance tropes contained therein.
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher Summary: This is the question that sets bondwoman, Martise of Asher, on a dangerous path. In exchange for her freedom, she bargains with her masters, the mage-priests of Conclave, to spy on the renegade sorcerer, Silhara of Neith. The priests want Martise to expose the sorcerer’s treachery and turn him over to Conclave justice. A risky endeavor, but one she accepts without hesitation–until she falls in love with her intended target.
Silhara of Neith, Master of Crows, is a desperate man. The god called Corruption invades his mind, seducing him with promises of limitless power if he will help it gain dominion over the world. Silhara struggles against Corruption’s influence and searches for ways to destroy the god. When Conclave sends Martise as an apprentice to help him, he knows she’s a spy. Now he fights a war on two fronts -against the god who would possess him and the apprentice who would betray him.
Mage and spy search together for a ritual that will annihilate Corruption, but in doing so, they discover secrets about each other that may damn them both. Silhara must decide if his fate, and the fate of nations, is worth the soul of the woman he has come to love, and Martise must choose continued enslavement or freedom at the cost of a man’s life. And love.
Tropes: Good versus Evil; A Destroyer is Coming; Politicking of a Magical Conclave; Sorcery; Master-Slave Love Interest; Subservient FMC meets Reluctant MMC; Slow-Burn
Publication Date: 2013
Publisher Summary: Afflicted by a centuries-old curse, a warlord slowly surrenders his humanity and descends toward madness. Ballard of Ketach Tor holds no hope of escaping his fate until his son returns home one day, accompanied by awoman of incomparable beauty. His family believes her arrival may herald Ballard’s salvation.
…until they confront her elder sister.
Determined to rescue her sibling from ruin, Louvaen Duenda pursues her to a decrepit castle and discovers a household imprisoned in time. Dark magic, threatening sorcerers, and a malevolent climbing rose with a thirst for blood won’t deter her, but a proud man disfigured by an undying hatred might. Louvaen must decide if loving him will ultimately save him or destroy him.
Tropes: Beauty and the Beast Fairytale Retelling; Magical Curse; Strong, Assertive FMC; Tortured MMC
The Wraith Kings Series
Publication Date: 2014, 2016, 2020
Publisher Summary (Book One): Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.
Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.
Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.
Tropes: Power-Hungry Queen; Court Politics; Old Magic; Demons; Necromancy; Large-Scale Battles; Arranged Marriage (Radiance and Eidolon); Friends-to-Lovers (The Ippos King)
The Fallen Empire Series
Publication Date: 2018
Publisher Summary: Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire’s capital – her fate: to be burned alive for the entertainment of the masses. For the last five years, one small village’s tithe has been the same woman. Gilene’s sacrifice protects all the other young women of her village, and her secret to staying alive lies with the magic only she possesses.
But this year is different.
Azarion, the Empire’s most famous gladiator, has somehow seen through her illusion, and is set on blackmailing Gilene into using her abilities to help him escape his life of slavery. And unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.
To protect her family and village, she will risk everything to return to the Empire and burn once more.
Tropes: Roman-Empire-Inspired World; Gods and Goddesses; Elemental Magic; Evil Empire; Rebellion; Enemies-to-Lovers
The Fallen Empire Series
Publication Date: 2020
Publisher Summary: Magic is outlawed in the Krael Empire and punishable by death. Born with the gift of earth magic, the free trader Halani keeps her dangerous secret closely guarded. When her uncle buys a mysterious artifact, a piece of bone belonging to a long-dead draga, Halani knows it’s far more than what it seems.
Dragas haven’t been seen for more than a century, and most believe them extinct. They’re wrong. Dragas still walk among the denizens of the Empire, disguised as humans. Malachus is a draga living on borrowed time. The magic that has protected him will soon turn on him–unless he finds a key part of his heritage. He has tracked it to a group of free traders, among them a grave-robbing earth witch who fascinates him as much as she frustrates him with her many secrets.
Unbeknownst to both, the Empire’s twisted empress searches for a draga of her own, to capture and kill as a trophy. As Malachus the hunter becomes the hunted, Halani must risk herself and all she loves to save him from the Empire’s machinations and his own lethal birthright.
Tropes: Roman-Empire-Inspired World; Healer Magic; Dragon Lore; Dragon Shifter; Evil Empire; Rebellion; Slow-Burn
I hope this essay has piqued the curiosity of Epic Fantasy afficianados and will create an entirely new group of Grace Draven fans. I know that her books have hit a sweet spot for me, masterfully blending Epic Fantasy and Romance in a way that is both entertaining and utterly satisfying as a reader searching for those special books that deliver on the promises of both genres. Hopefully, we’ll all start seeing more Grace Draven recommendations for Epic Fantasy! Happy Reading!
Our friend (and wonderful blogger) Peat mentioned that he was working on a tag based on the frustrating things cats do. I (Fab) loved the idea (my favourite ever D&D character that I’ve played was a very annoying Tabaxi) – so I’m very excited that it’s live now – check out THE EVIL CAT BOOK TAG over at Peat’s blog here! I snagged Kat and here are our choices for Peat’s prompts (prompts and flavour texts are copied from him).
Knocking shit off of high places – A book with a cliffhanger
We’ve all seen it right? The majestic leap up high. The tentative dab of the paw at something on the high surface. The crash if you don’t get to them quick enough. Hopefully it wasn’t breakable. Or your wedding ring. But, really, this wasn’t the cat’s fault. It’s yours. Some things shouldn’t be left near cliffs…
Fab: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the first book in a duology about two sapphics who fall in love while married to the same guy in a terrible system and burn down the status quo in the process. It ends in a way that I did not see coming, and the wait for book two was truly torture. This is a series where you really need to have both books ready to binge.
Kat: Dying on Second is the fourth book in the Marie Jenner Mystery series by E.C. Bell. Marie has a secret – she can see and speak with the deceased. Like her mother before her, she helps the dead to move on to the next plane of existence. Needless to say, because of her unique abilities, she’s seen and experienced some pretty heavy stuff, but nothing compares to the situation she faces in the conclusion of book 4 – talk about a cliffhanger! To see what happens to Marie and how she gets out of this latest mess, readers will have to check out book 5 in the series, Hearing Voices.
Howling at 3am – A book you didn’t sleep to finish
To you, it is sleep time. To the cat, it is playtime. Or maybe they’re hungry. Or just evil, for ’tis the witching hour. Whatever the reason, you should be awake. The cat says so. Some books are similarly insistent…
Fab: All of Us Villains by Christine Lynn Hermann and Amanda Foody (finally out in November…) was one of those books that I simply could not put down. Think Nevernight meets Gossip Girl, with a dash of The Hunger Games. Addictive YA at its best, with a cast of morally grey characters who compete for power and survival. Magic that has been kept secret now unveiled by a tell-all book, and perhaps working together might be a solution after all? This one definitely kept me reading until I was done, and I’m still impatiently awaiting the sequel. Even though book one isn’t published yet.
Kat: I read the entire first trilogy of Ilona Andrew’s Hidden Legacy series in three days. That’s right folks – three books, three days. Needless to say sleep was not a priority. This series is near perfection for me, and Burn for Me will knock your socks off with its action-packed plot and inventive magic system. The over-arching, series-wide plot is well-paced, each book contributing significantly to the development of the conspiracy and uncovering more hints as to the identify the ultimate big bad. The romance is slow-burn, with tension building over the course of the first two books, exploding with steam in the second, and then coming to the HEA conclusion at the end of the first trilogy. Highest of recommendations to fans of Urban Fantasy Romance!
Hiding before a vet visit – A book with a self-destructive character
Some people have a sixth sense for impending calamity. Most cats have a sixth sense for an impending visit to the vet and hide. Who cares if it’s for their own good? We’ve all read someone like that…
Fab: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is an excellent book. But damn, Alex Stern is a self-destructive character. She has no sense of self-preservation or caution. She leaps head-first into danger without thinking twice about what could happen. Partially because that girl carries a shit ton of baggage around with herself, partially because of who she is. But I can’t think of a more self-destructive character than our dear Galaxy.
Kat: I think we can all agree that our favorite detective has issues with self-preservation. Storm Front is the first book of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series, and our introduction to Harry’s peculiarly adept ability to put himself into danger. I mean, how many wizards do you know willingly visit a powerful blood-sucking vampire at night in her demesne and then exposes her true form for everyone to see? Terrible idea, Harry. Terrible. That’s not the last time Harry puts himself in a terrible situation in this book, and certainly not the last time across the broader series. Despite his assertion otherwise, Harry Dresden has a serious death wish.
The turd dangling from their behind – A sequel that was a bit, er, turd
Sometimes cats eat hair. And sometimes when they do, it gets stuck post-defecation, with a little bit of said defecation attached to it. So when your darling cat goes by and you get excited, you soon realise there’s something horrible behind them. Just like a bad sequel…
Fab: I have to admit, I wasn’t as hyped about Children of Blood and Bone as most of my friends were. But I still enjoyed it quite a lot and was excited for the sequel. (And, I truly hate being negative about books on the blog! Peat, you’re worse than a cat with a turd stuck to its butt for making me be mean on purpose!) Children of Virtue and Vengeance was probably my biggest disappointment of 2020. Not the worst book I’d read – I mean, I did finish it – but in terms of what I expected and what I felt when reading.
Kat: What’s worse than a sequel that’s a bit of a turd? The final book in a trilogy that’s a bit of a turd. I absolutely adored the first two books in Amanda Bouchet’s The Kingmaker Chronicles series. I blew through them so quickly with the fresh Greek-mythology-based world-building. I was genuinely excited to see how the series would end, and unfortunately I DNF’ed the final book, Heart on Fire. To me, it seemed to be a complete departure from the tone and focus of the first two books. It was almost like it was written by someone else entirely! Very disappointing. However, the first two books are solid, so if you’re the type of person that doesn’t need to read the full series to feel complete, I highly recommend them!
Puking on the carpet – A book with a betrayal
We all know this one. And we all know it’s not really the cat’s fault. But why now? And especially, why there? Why not a nice easy to clean surface? Right or wrong, it feels like a betrayal…
Fab: With a title like A Lesson in Vengeance, Victoria Lee’s latest book is bound to be prime real estate for those backstabbing sapphics. Felicity and Ellis spend most of the book betraying each other and the people to various degrees and it’s a joy to read. Highly recommend this for some premium cat puking on the carpet betrayal energy.
Kat: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie is one of the best revenge books out there. But in my opinion, it is also contains one of the most powerful betrayals I’ve ever read in that it subverts the entire quest for vengeance and exposes its futility. You’ll have to read the book to discover the details of the betrayal, but suffice to say it helps solidify Abercrombie’s well-deserved reputation as the master of grimdark fantasy.
Dragging in live animals – A book with shocking violence
One time I heard a great commotion and looked up to see a pigeon flying up my hallway, pursued by a mighty predator bounding away. I get that you are a mean lean hunting machine, but do you have to bring me the final act to watch? Sometimes it all just seems a little over the top…
Fab: There are a lot of books that have a liberal approach to violence. But knowing Peat and his tongue in cheek approach to this (and the cat chaos energy of this tag), there was only one choice for me: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey. Yes, this is a delightful sapphic found family witchy YA novel. But also, it starts with an accidental murder by exploding penis. I am not kidding. It’s also not a spoiler because it’s the inciting incident for the story. So yeah. That’s that. Highly recommend the book. It is actually quite wholesome.
Kat: Grace Draven is not one to hold back on graphic content, and that’s not just limited to explicit sex. There is often a strain of brutality and rawness in her books that can be quite unexpected for Romance readers. When I first read Radiance, I didn’t know what to expect; so, when I reached the torture scene (I won’t spoil who is tortured by whom or why), I was shocked. While not the most violent scene found within her canon, this scene was my first encounter with violence in her books. It’s honestly one of the things I appreciate about her as an author, though – she is graphic across all aspects of her writing!
Looking you in the eye before misbehaving – A book with a character desperate for attention
It’s one thing to be naughty, nay, malevolent. But to look right at me before you do it? Just to make sure your cry for attention will get attention? Why not lie in front of the television ins- oh, you did that too. Cats just really love attention…
Fab: I did not have to think long about which character I think is the biggest attention whore when Gideon is right there. The star of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is swagger incarnate. Just look at her on that cover. She needs to be the focus of every room that she walks into. Especially if she is supposed to be lying low. Subtlety is not one of her strengths. But that is part of why I am so damn in love with her.
Kat: He may groan about being called the Thorn of Camorr, but make no mistake, Locke Lamora loves to be the center of attention. From his elaborate disguises and public performances to his desire that his targets know who bested them, the protagonist of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series is a just bit of an attention whore. The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book in this thrilling series centered around this lovable yet frustrating character and his merry band of trouble-makers.
Shredding things- A book with a destructive character
Soft furnishings. Wrapping paper. Your jeans. The loo roll. If a cat can shred it, a cat will shred it. One of my cats once got into a multi-pack of loo roll and pretty much redecorated the house. Some types are just inherently destructive…
Fab: Zetian in Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow is the female badass version of a suicide bomber. She joins a special ops division purely to get revenge for her sister’s death at the hands of a mecha pilot – and proceeds to kill him within a few chapters. She has no moral qualms, is out for revenge and her own survival is an afterthought. Neither she nor this book take any prisoners, and I knew within a few pages that I was in love. Read this as soon as you can.
Kat: Need someone murdered? Beat-up? Blown-up? Dani, a super-human vigilante, from Kit Rocha’s Mercenary Librarian series has got you covered. She’ll be the first person to offer up her destructive services and is downright excited at the prospect! In Deal with the Devil, she doesn’t understand why her team doesn’t think a rocket launcher or C-4 are appropriate items to pack for their quest. When things go south, she doesn’t hesitate to comment, “Now aren’t you sad I didn’t bring the C-4?”
Has never been fed, never – A series you can’t get enough of
Whether it’s the incessant yammering whenever in the kitchen, the attempts to trip you up and get their food quicker, or the naked theft from your plate, many cats give the impression of having never been fed before. But hey, we all know what it’s like to be insatiable, right…
Fab: I’m not the best at reading whole series. Because I tend to read books as they come out, I forget about series as I wait. But I’ve recently been obsessed with the Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, starting with A Natural History of Dragons. I still haven’t quite forgiven my friends for letting me sleep on these books for so long. They’re smart, featuring a nerdy, ambitious female lead who is prickly and not always the most charming and sociable – someone who is a lot like me. I raced through the five books of the series this summer, mostly in audio book, and I highly recommend them.
Kat: I cannot get enough of Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke series. There are so many things to love about this Victorian-era Historical Romance series, the least of which is the fact that the MMC in the first book, The Duchess Deal, swears in Shakespeare! Her wit, humor, and banter are thoroughly entertaining, but what I really can’t get enough of is the quirky band of eccentric women who attract and join forces with an equally unique group of misfit men. Oh, and did I mention the steam? Whew! I am not-so-patiently waiting for the next book!
Be so cute you forgive them anyway – A book with a wicked MC you like
This set of tags might make you think I hate cats, but I love my little hyperactive gremlins like few other beings. There’s many reasons for it, but one is they’re so bloody cute. Some characters definitely have that energy too…
Fab: Everyone’s got to have one problematic fave, and Mia Corvere from Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight series is mine. She is such a messed up character, but she is also a bisexual icon and she helped me figure out who I am. She would also fit into so many other categories in this tag – she is also both self- and outwardly destructive, the books in the series have kept me up late reading and they most definitely end on cliffhangers. They are also bloody and addictive. Yes, there are problematic aspects to the series, and I will not deny them (one of the characters is named after the Jewish word for God that is not supposed to be uttered, the name for the society infamous for blood sorcery is very close to a subset of the Jewish people and a society presented as barbarian in the books can be read as similar to the Aborigines/Maori people), so do approach these books with caution.
Kat: I have to admit that I shouldn’t like Ryder as much as I do, but what can I say – I’m a complete sucker for his over-the-top brand of wickedness. In Fighting Destiny, we are introduced to a deliciously sexy and wicked MMC who is clearly terrible for our female heroine on multiple levels. But as the book – and series – progressed, I found myself increasingly intrigued and rooting for this unlikely and oftentimes morally ambiguous MMC. Let’s be honest – his wickedness just made him even more hot!
We’ve been reading. We’ve been deliberating. And we have made some tough but necessary decisions – whittling it down to the finalists in all the categories. Without further ado, here are the 2021 SKCA finalists!
The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk
The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow
Best Science Fiction
The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson
Goldilocks, Laura Lam
Legendborn, Tracy Deonn
Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas
The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson
Best Blurred Boundaries
The Bone Shard Daughter, Andrea Stewart
Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu
The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo
Ring Shout, P. Djeli Clark
Best Short Fiction
“You Perfect, Broken Thing”, C.L. Clark, Uncanny Magazine 32, available here
“Yellow and the Perception of Reality”, Maureen McHugh, Tor.com, available here
The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang
Dominion of the Fallen, Aliette de Bodard
Joe Abercrombie’s The Age of Madness series is a lot of fun. Grimdark, but fun. So I couldn’t resist when Will at Gollancz reached out with the idea of a massive readalong. This is WEEK 4 – so we’re going from the Sinking Ships to The New Monument chapters of A Little Hatred today. Check out the previous posts in the series here (WEEK 1 – Grimdark Magazine; WEEK 2 – Novel Notions; WEEK 3 – Alhambra Book Reviews). But without further ado, let’s dive into the story. These chapters really take us into the meat of the revolution breaking out which means there’s a lot of action – and especially a lot of re-action from the various factions introduced earlier in the story.
Sinking Ships brings Vick and Tallow to Valbeck, where they join the Breakers, one of the factions planning the looming rebellion. This chapter does well showing the discontent spreading through the lower classes of the city and how there isn’t much tinder needed to set them aflame. Vick and Tallow find out that the Weaver, their leader, is in fact Superior Risinau, one of the members of the Inquisition that the Breakers (and their more violent cousins, the Burners) are rising against.
Welcome to the Future – oh the joys of capitalism and industrialisation! Vallimir shows Savine the budding factory which is teeming with child labour and exploitation. Not like they care though, it makes them money. But this is where things start to go really sour for the rich: they are attacked when the rebellion and its accompanying riots break out. Savine almost dies, and manages to rescue herself with the help of a handy river.
The Little People is the kind of chapter in which Abercrombie shines. I think he’s at his best in these mood-setting atmospheric snapshots. This chapter shows the impact of the beginning rebellion and riots on the population of Valbeck through a series of vignettes showing minor characters and what happens to them as the violence breaks out. I really loved this chapter in particular.
In Something of Ours, Savine is reeling from the heinous attack that she just survived. She is desperate to find shelter, though it is no easy feat. Eventually, May, a maid, recognises her as someone of importance due to the expensive clothes she wears (which are in rags by now) and takes her in.
The Man of Action takes us to the court of the Royal Family, where everyone is in uproar after news of the rebellion in Valbeck has reached them. The Crown Prince Orso is dispatched to help combat the rebellion – and of course ensure the safety of the story’s darling, Savine dan Glotka. (Hi, yes, can you tell she’s my fave) This, of course, means that he can’t follow his plans of going North to fight there…
Ugly Business brings us to Rikke and Leo dan Brock. We meet them again, tangled in bed, discussing royalty and war, when the army camp they’re in gets news of the events in Valbeck. As Rikke says “Reckon we’ll have to save ourselves.”
In the Mirror – the chaotic events in Valbeck are mirrored in the chaos at the court of the King of the Northmen. King Scale is holding a feast, when his nephew Stour returns, late, disappointing the king. Nevertheless, Scale officially names Stour heir – to the dismay of his advisors but much raucous feasting.
A Deal. Savine is recuperating with May and her family. They are simple people, and Savine is exceedingly grateful. May gets her to enter a deal: in return for taking care of Savine and rescuing her, Savine will use her influence to gain immunity for the family, so exchanging protection for protection.
The New Monument takes these chapters full circle. We’re back with Vick and Risinau, overlooking the destruction that happened during the course of the riots. Monuments have fallen, but what new ones will arise? Or will they all perish?
So, much that happened in those chapters, especially in terms of setting the scene and worldbuilding. There was a big focus on atmosphere, which I really enjoyed. On to the next nine chapters now!
Last summer (let’s be honest, FAR too long ago), Team Bkmrk was kind enough to send me a full set of books for their #ReadWithPride campaign that they are doing with Lucy Powrie – As I’ve been reading a lot of hefty adult fantasy, this stack of queer YA has been proving a great summer distraction (and then taken me all winter to actually finish with them because I am a horrible person and can’t be trusted), and I thought I’d share mini-reviews of all of the lovely books with you!
A massive thank you to Hachette Children’s Publishing for providing me with the books!
Heartstopper is the first volume of the print version of a webcomic focusing on two teenage boys falling in love. It is adorable and emotional – I read this in a single sitting while feeling lonely one night and almost cried. It makes me so happy that books like this exist and are accessible nowadays – I think I would have figured out quite a few things about myself a lot earlier if YA was as inclusive in the early 2000s as it is now (even if it isn’t perfect). Alice Oseman poignantly tells the story of Nick and Charlie as they navigate being queer, teenagers, and coming-of-age in today’s Britain, accompanied by wonderful art. I very much recommend and I can’t wait to keep reading this series.
Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal is a modern reimagining of Moby Dick – it took me quite a while to grasp that and the references to it, as it was not clear from the blurb (should have guessed, given that one of the characters was named Ahab, but that’s heatwave and Covid brain for you). It is the story of a teenager discovering her sexuality and coming to terms with her life, told through the lens of a dusty classic that most of us have only heard of. Kit de Waal manages to make the story accessible, relevant and immediate, though for me the stakes of the story didn’t come through enough. It led to the tension lagging and the pace dragging a bit, but that might be more due to me as a reader than the book itself, as I do rarely read contemporaries these days.
Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence was one of the books on the stack that tempted me most – but it didn’t work for me at all. I almost DNF’d it so many times, as to me, the plot was not believeable at all. This is the story of Silva and Becks, London teenagers left alone while their newly married parents are on honeymoon. A story of obsession, love and its aftermath. I know this sounds weird coming from a fantasy reader, but when I read contemporary, I do have to be able to somewhat see the story as realistic. Maybe it is due to a cultural disconnect from how and where I grew up, but this didn’t work for me, though reviews indicate it does for many others.
Alice in Wonderland is my favourite classic. It is wonderfully weird and quirky and nonsensical, and I love it more than anything. Wonderland by Juno Dawson is just as strange and wonderful. Technically the third in a series of interconnected novels, it reads just as well as a standalone – it is the first of Dawson’s works I have read and I did not feel like I was missing out on anything. The Wonderland allegories are sometimes very heavy-handed, but that is what created the magic for me: half contemporary thriller about a trans girl, half crazy psychodelic trip through Wonderland. It is not fully realistic, nor a work of fantasy, but something in between – I enjoyed it a lot. Alice’s transness and bisexuality – and unashamed sexuality – just happened to be part of the story rather than the main element being interrogated, which was refreshing. Yay for incidental queerness!
After that, Only Mostly Devastated was the calm after the storm. Back to the roots of contemporary YA rom-com. Refreshing, cute, but still nuanced, the story of Will and Ollie is a cute summer read – exactly what the doctor ordered to distract myself from my problems. After they have a summer fling, Ollie finds himself moving to the same town as his crush Will, only to realise that Will isn’t out yet… Chaos and shenanigans ensue, they run hot and cold, and the importance of friendship and being true to yourself is explored.
Sadly, I did not enjoy Can Everyone Please Calm Down? by Mae Martin at all. Conceived as a sort of guidebook to modern sexuality it read more as a very self-indulgent autobiography of coming to terms with the author’s own sexuality in a supportive environment rather than being a helpful handbook for struggling teens. The tone was often cringeworthy and had me rolling my eyes throughout. I think a book more along the lines of Kelly Jensen’s recent anthology Body Talk specifically aimed at sexuality would hit the spot much more (see here for my review of the anthology).
The same is true of Read With Pride by Lucy Powrie. I was not able to connect with the book at all and ended up abandoning it after about eighty pages. I think part was as I am clearly too old to be the target audience for the novel, as it is a lower-YA aimed book, but also I felt like issues were over-explained and plot elements were too predictable. But as the book has a 4.22 rating on Goodreads, it is likely more of a me-thing than anything else!
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta was probably my favourite book out of the bunch. On paper, it’s not my thing at all – I’m not a poetry person and this is a novel in verse, but I fell in love with it. It is raw and honest and deals with figuring out who you are away from home as you grow into being an adult. I thought it was brilliant and devoured it in a single sitting. And oh, how strong its sense of fuck you to society and conformity is. This is the kind of book every teen needs, especially teens with marginalised identities. Michael is a fabulous leading character, because he doesn’t have any answers, he makes them up as he goes and is just as clueless as most of us are.
Last, but not least, The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. This is the only book on the list that I’d read beforehand – I’d pre-ordered it in hardback and was now sent it in paperback too. This is the story of Dracula’s brides, and how they came to be. It is a story of fierce girls, of sisters who love each other more than anything, while being incredibly competitive with each other. It also features a very sweet sapphic relationship between two traumatised girls – I’m all here for the slow-burn and helping each other heal. And Kiran’s writing is stunning – she is a brilliant writer in all her book, be it this YA or her MG or adult work.