In a secondary fantasy world inspired by early 20th Century China, a young woman’s determination and drive to succeed and excel at any cost runs into the horrors of war, conflict and ancient, suppressed forces in R. F. Kuang’s excellent debut novel, The Poppy War.
Welcome to the latest installment of my comics review column here at Skiffy & Fanty! Every month, I use this space to shine a spotlight on SF&F comics (print comics, graphic novels, and webcomics) that I believe deserve more attention from SF&F readers.
This month, I’m shining a spotlight on a new series that debuted in January, 2018, and that, as I predicted in the Skiffy & Fanty Looking Back, Moving Forward: The 2018 Edition podcast, checks absolutely all my boxes: Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivelä’s Abbott. (This review contains spoilers!) [Read more…]
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman is a deeply affecting young adult novel that is part coming-of-age and part episodic road trip. It focuses on the eponymous Tess, a young woman who runs away from home to escape the restrictive life that is slowly smothering her.
Rachel Hartman is best known for her Seraphina duology. Tess of the Road is not only set in the same world, but Tess is Seraphina’s half sister. New readers don’t need to have read the previous series in order to read this book; it makes clear how the world works. However, Tess of the Road takes place after the events of Seraphina and Shadow Scale. Several of the characters from these books make cameos and I highly recommend reading them first if you are adverse to spoilers.
Justice flicked her eyes this way and that. All else around the parlor appeared ordinary. The light of sun set the room aglow in corners and on walls. It was an eerie effect, but not something she hadn’t seen before. The house was stifling, as it had been for weeks. But there was nothing odd about sunlight, about heat, at this early hour. Yet, since the summer started, she’d got the notion at times that something deadly strange was going on.
When I was considering what book to read for Black History Month, I was once again struck with how inadequate my small library of childhood favorites is in representing any perspective that is not white. Thank goodness for Google. I’m upset with the system that existed in my small, very white town. A system that seems to have excluded voices of color and, indeed, made attempts on numerous occasions to explicitly do so. All of this means that I was never introduced to the exceedingly talented Newbery Medalist author, Virginia Hamilton. I suspect this is not JUST because she is a black woman, but because, at least when it comes to Justice and Her Brothers, one could easily mistake her work for “Not Sci-fi.” This is a mistake that needs immediate rectification because nothing could be further from the truth. [Read more…]
Binti is a prodigy among her people, the Himba, in a mid-future world constructed by author Nnedi Okorafor. Binti’s desire to go the finest University in the galaxy breaks all sorts of norms. Binti’s like that, though, breaking norms and boundaries as she finds her way to the University, back home, and what happens thereafter. Binti’s story is told in Okorafor’s Binti, Binti: Home and the finale of the trilogy, Binti: Masquerade.
Orders of female warriors, psychic weapons and quests for revenge are at the centre of Rati Mehrotra’s debut novel Markswoman.
Nearly a thousand years after an apocalypse, humanity lives on in clans, and executions are carried out by orders of elite warriors. Kyra belongs to the oldest of these orders: the Order of Kali. Their leader, Shirin Mam, is renowned for her wisdom and power. Things begin to go wrong when Kyra returns one day to discover Shirin Mam is dead. Although the death appears natural, Kyra is convinced her mentor has been murdered… and she’s pretty sure she knows the culprit. It is up to her to claim justice.
Although she’s been a name within the young adult horror/fantasy scene for a while now, Frances Hardinge was recently projected into the mainstream public gaze when her novel The Lie Tree won the 2016 Costa Book of the Year Prize. After such a bar was set with her last novel, Hardinge’s fans waited with bated breath for her newest, A Skinful of Shadows. Luckily it is an intricate and masterfully told coming-of-age tale, full of intrigue and more than a little creepy, which lives up to expectations. Plus, it was nominated for the Waterstones Book of the Year Award 2017. Take that, Costa.
A Skinful of Shadows is a dark fantasy novel, set during the English Civil War. We meet our protagonist, Makepeace, as a young girl who lives in the attic of her Puritan uncle’s house, along with her mother. She is haunted by very realistic dreams of ghosts and other terrifying things, and to help her deal with her strange affliction, her mother often forces her to stay in a church overnight to deal with the demons in her head.
If you ever thought Jane Austen needed more demon hunting, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman is the book for you.
In Regency London, Lady Helen Wrexhall is preparing for her presentation to the queen. Her parents died under mysterious circumstances no one talks about except to mention the shame Lady Helen’s mother brought to the family. This means that Lady Helen must be a paragon in order to avoid the stain of such an association and marry well.
Which makes it very inconvenient when she starts to manifest unusual abilities. Having grown up being able to read the tiniest signs of emotion in people’s faces, she starts to find herself filled with a restless energy. When one of her family’s housemaids goes missing, Lady Helen sets out to investigate. She finds herself drawn into a shadowy side of the world she never knew existed and to the Earl of Carleston. Through him she learns the truth of her abilities and must choose between her duty to her country and her desire to lead a normal life. [Read more…]
Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers takes a familiar idea, the fish out of water, from a distant part of a galactic empire, and updates it for a 21st century mentality and enlightened point of view. In not all, but many works past, the protagonist would be male, it’d be a patriarchal empire ruled by a King, Emperor, what have you. Women would have at best secondary roles, with even the occasional strong female character having a relatively unexplored interior life, and certainly not a full-on point of view that gives us her real story (I’m looking at you, Princess Leia). A man’s world, where men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.
Some novels and novelists have tried to buck this sausage fest of space opera in the past. Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta series, for example. Some of Debra Doyle’s and James D. MacDonald’s Mageworld novels feature a strong female protagonist front and center. Even with these exceptions, Space Opera and space adventure have for decades been overwhelmingly a male-dominated and male-catered affair. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo cast long shadows indeed. [Read more…]
All good things must come to an end, and with Buried Heart, author Kate Elliott brings to a conclusion the YA Court of Fives trilogy.
Talking about plot developments in the third and final volume of a trilogy is difficult and perhaps foolish to try, so I will instead discuss the essential theme of this volume, one that has been slowly surfacing through Court of Fives and Poisoned Blade, but here gets its full fulminating flowering: Revolution. In Buried Heart, Efea’s oppressed status, something that the author has been delineating from the very first chapter of Court of Fives, comes out in full force. Of course within the potential revolution of Efea against the tyranny that holds it is the struggle of powers around it, and the struggles of the current royal occupants to hold the throne against kin and family. The first two novels, which suggested that Jessamy, the Spider, would be subsumed into that dynamic entirely, prove to have been a false flag. In the third volume, Jess finds herself caught between father and mother, her lover and her land, and must make often difficult choices as the people of Efea struggle to reclaim their freedom. [Read more…]