In which I run down some SFF books I read in 2019. Because right now, a good book sure can’t hurt.
Go wash your hands first though.
Just a quick run down of some SFF books I read in 2019. Some I physically read. Some I listened on audio. Yup, that’s reading too in my book. Disagree, take it up with management. Others, I did a bit of both. They’re listed in no particular order, but if you’re looking to add to your reading list hope they help. If you read them and just want to geek out about them in the comments, I’m up for that too!
First on the list:
Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. Listen, I am an absolute sucker for realistic fairy tales. I’d already dug Novik’s Uprooted, and I’m always here for some Temeraire, so when I read the blurb for Spinning Silver, it was a definite purchase:
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty—until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold. When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk—grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh—Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. She will face an impossible challenge and, along with two unlikely allies, uncover a secret that threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike.
Silver-spinning heroine, an ice faerie king, a fire demon, and a mix of Jewish and Slavic influences–with a riveting story and an absolutely satisfying ending. One of those books I was sad to see end.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon was sitting on my shelf as a “must read” for almost two years. I’d heard good things about it for sure. But it was a heavy read folks said, so I kept putting it off for when my mind was right. Finally, one day I decided I was ready. And wow. WOW! Holy friggin’ wow!
I should never have waited so long! The protagonist in this story is Aster, who lives aboard a futurist ship traversing the stars, that has managed to create all the problematic racial, caste, and social hierarchies that plague our world. A synopsis:
Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world.
Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot–if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war.
This story took me apart and forced me to knit myself back together just to take me apart some more. Visceral, stark, engrossing, and with prose like…. You ever go to a high-end restaurant and you’re thinking, “people actually pay all this money for some food?” Then you taste something that’s so friggin’ good you’re like, “Okay first off, take all my money….” Yeah. IIt’s like that.
My first introduction to Zen Cho’s writing was Sorcerer to the Crown, which I absolutely loved–the story of an alternate England with magicians and mages of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, as well as the colonialism, racism, and gender inequities of our own world. In 2019 Cho followed up with a new novel within the same setting, The True Queen.
While the first book followed the travails and adventures of the black magician Zacharias Wythe and the indomitable Prunella Gentlewoman, this more recent book (while including them as secondary characters) tells the story of Muna and Sakti–whose own tale will send them traversing worlds:
When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.
If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.
As delightful a read as the first book, including the return of everyone’s favorite elder dragon matriarch Georgiana Without Ruth. Get this book!
Okay, one more.
Like alien invasion stories? Ever wonder why with all the places to pick they always end up in New York? Or some cornfield in Iowa? Maybe Los Angeles? The Lesson by Caldwell Turnbull flips the whole script. When aliens finally land they skip North America altogether–and choose instead the Virgin Islands. Bet that grabbed your attention huh? A synopsis:
An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of superadvanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.
A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witnesses and victims to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.
The Lesson is Turnbull’s debut novel, and it’s a page-turner! It immerses you in this Afro-Caribbean world of people trying to live their everyday mundane lives, among an alien species that has also decided to take up residence–leading to interpersonal encounters that build to a heart-stopping climax. Well written and conceived, this is what I imagine when I think of science fiction’s endless possibilities. Loved it!
That’s it for now. Probably do a few more of these in the weeks to come. In the meantime, keep reading, wash your hands, stay calm, and stop hoarding all the friggin’ toilet paper!
Isn’t funny that I own all of these books, but I’ve read only one of them?
Happens. Which one?
ohhh! whaddya think?
It was really good and I enjoyed it a lot! “Spinning Silver” is one of my “earlier” reviews on my blog! I hope Naomi Novik returns to that universe in the near future!
Hi there friend!!! Thanks for the reading suggestions. I just downloaded Sorcerer to the crown. Can’t wait to dig in and escape this current planet!!!
Thanks again for sharing
Yaaay! You’ll like it! When you finish we should have a book talk on here.
Sounds like a plan!
Perfect timing! Up late (or early but I plan on going back to sleep) finishing s book. Need a new list for my self-isolation. Will check some of these out.
Glad that you’re doing book reviews.
I haven’t read Spinning Silver, but I did read Uprooted and have to say it had me riveted to my old man reading chair for a few evenings straight. Unfortunately, I still work every day. So, based on the reviews and your recommendation SS goes up a bit higher on my to read stack which is always filled to capacity.
Saw the cover and read the blurb for An Unkindness of Ghosts. I remember being intrigued by it but for some reason I didn’t pull the trigger and purchase it. Have to go back and take a relook at it fo sho’.
This may get repetitive, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I listened to the audio book of Sorcerer to the Crown, but haven’t read The True Queen yet though it is on my shelves. Like you I loved STTC and recommended it to the few people of color I know that read fantasy. It’s been a few years since I read it. Don’t remember a lot of details.
Finally breaking the pattern. I just started reading The Lesson yesterday after finishing your novella The Black God’s Drums (sent you an email on that…nuff said!). I was immediately sent hurdling through the first chapter at breakneck speed and had to stop myself because it was getting late in the evening and I had to spend some quality time with my wife else I don’t get my quality reading time for myself. What immediately resonated with me was Derrick’s discovery of non-European mythology. Like many of us my gateway into fantasy literature was through Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. When I discovered the Ancient Kemetic/Egyptian mythology and learned that the Greeks had renamed them for their own culture the same way most conquerors rename everything they encounter, it became a moment of clarity for me.
Please continue to recommend books. The older I get the more friends I used to share books with and get recommendations from stop reading or transition to the spiritual plane. I really really enjoy Joe Abercrombie’a books on Audible. The voice actor Steve Pacey brings that series to life. What are your thoughts if you have read him? Love and appreciate your work. What other on-line forums can you recommend? Keep writing! Off to continue reading The Lesson!
Marcus, took almost a month but just getting back to blogging and replies. Great stuff here–hope you finished up The Lesson! I too grew up on Greco-Roman mythology, which I loved. Then I discovered Norse mythology and I was blown away! I didn’t really get into non-Western mythos until my college years: Egyptian, Yoruba, Chinese, Native American, etc. Definitely eye-opening and inspiring. So, I’ve never read any Abercrombie. I know! Because everyone says I should. But it was him or Erickson (Malazan) and I went with Erickson at the time. On the list tho.
Thank you *so* much for the reading suggestions. I’ve been going nuts, trying to concentrate on reading – engrossing fiction will hopefully pull me in. I just read a *really* wonderful novella that I was so sorry to finish (because I wanted more): ‘The Haunting of Tram Car 015’. I can’t recommend it enough – the setting, the people (and not-people), the mystery, the forward march of an alternate Egyptian society. Shukran.