Recommendations: Adult Fantasy

I have seen a discussion floating around Twitter about that period between being a teenager and being an adult and the difficulty some people face in finding books that speak to them. I have talked about memoirs in this context before as I find that they are a brilliant way of finding books that talk about exactly these experiences. Rachel has also written a brilliant post recommending adult books for young adults, which you should absolutely check out. But today I want to recommend some Adult Fantasy – because there are so many great books in that section that people maybe ignore. I personally have been struggling with YA fantasy because the focus on love stories is just not something I am super interested in, and have been mostly reading adult fantasy.

I also have thoughts about whose books get classified as YA. Hint: Not those written by men. Coming-of-age stories are a staple in adult fantasy, be it Lord of the Rings or The Name of the Wind. But nobody calls these books YA. But when a young woman writes fantasy suddenly people insist on calling it YA. Case in point: R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, which is decidedly NOT YA and super gruesome in parts. The author received some weird backlash when she insisted that her book really, really, really is not YA and should be treated as such. So I would politely ask everybody to think about their assumptions when it comes to placing books in the YA section in their heads.

Urban Fantasy:

The Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch

9317452I love this series with all my heart. The main character is in his mid-twenties and working as a police man when he stumbles upon the supernatural underbelly of contemporary London. The books are hilarious and self-aware, the cast of characters is diverse and wonderfully drawn, and reading these books just makes me happy. The seventh book is due to come out this month and I cannot wait to hold it in my hands.

The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

7940930I went through a ridiculous binge of these books earlier this year and only have the last book in the series left to read. Kate is a wonderful protagonist who I am always rooting for. She is in her early twenties when the series begins and working as a private investigator, trying to just live her life and not get emotionally involved with anybody. I have rarely been as invested in a relationship as I am in hers and Curran (even if he is a bit of an ass sometimes) and love the strong emphasis on friendship these books have at their core. I have also recently read another series by Ilona Andrews which I also whole-heartedly recommend.

High Fantasy:

The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

19161852I adore this. I don’t even have all that many words to describe how utterly perfect I think this series is. N. K. Jemisin might be my all-time favourite author and I am dragging my feet to read the last of her series that I haven’t read yet because then I would have to wait for new books to appear. The first book is told from three perspectives following three women of different ages and their struggles. It grapples with growing up and family and racism and the end of the world. The themes of family at the core of this series really broke my heart.

The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett

25452717The protagonists of this series are on the older end – and I absolutely loved this. They still are looking for their place in the world and they try to be good people (and sometimes fail at this).The characters rebel against their families’ expectations in a way that I found highly relatable. Bennett’s language is assured, his characterization on point, and his world-building intricate.

Standalones:

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

27313170Sitting just at the edge between fantasy and science fiction, this is basically a coming-of-age story, focussing on the friendship between a witch and a scientist. There are strong themes of family and friendship, on doing the right thing as opposed to the easy thing, and of identity and self. The characters in this book are different and wonderful. Anders’ imagination is dazzling and I cannot wait for her new book coming out in January 2019.

Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

33571217Milo is an old soul, literally – he has lived 9995 lives so far and has yet to achieve perfection. In fact he isn’t even sure he wants to achieve perfection as he is in love with Death (or rather a Death – Suzie). This has to change when he is informed that every soul has in fact only 10000 lives to get it right or it will be erased. This a book, at its core, about finding your place in the world and about being the best person you can be. And I can think of few things more relevant to me.

What are your favourite adult fantasy novels that might be interesting to people trying to find their way into the genre?

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Thoughts: Authors whose next work I am eagerly anticipating

I follow very few authors religiously. Even if I adore a book by an author, I am not always all that great at picking up other books the author has written. That said, there are a few authors whose next work I am eagerly anticipating. (My inspiration for this post was a similar post done by Zuky, whose blog you should definitely check out if you aren’t following her already)

13922215Katherine Arden

I adored the first two books in her Winternight trilogy and cannot wait for the last book in the series. I am just a huge fan of her writing style and the wonderful sense of place she invokes. That I am a sucker for stories set in the north of Russia certainly didn’t hurt.

Megan Stielstra

Her essay collection The Wrong Way to Save Your Life was one of my favourite books of last year. I have since read and adored her first essay collection and cannot wait to see what she does next. I also own her short story collection but am kind of too scared to pick that up and not have any of her books left to read.

Amber Sparks

She has written one of my all-time favourite short story collections and another one that was similarly great. I follow her on twitter and everything she posts about the collection she is working on sounds absolutely brilliant.

8446300Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char was just so very brilliant and different and just SO much my cup of tea that I have been waiting for a new book by the author ever since. I am starting to give up on that hope because there have not been any news for ages now. That would be such a shame though!

3192838Melissa Broder

I know that I am probably already boring you all with how much of a Melissa Broder fan I am – but there is just somethin so very brilliant about her writing. Having now read both her memoir and her debut novel, I can confidently say that I will be reading everything she writes next.

What are some of the authors whose next work you are eagerly anticipating?

 

Review: Foundryside (The Founders #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett

9781786487865 (4)Verdict: Slow to start, brilliant second half.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Genre: Fantasy

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, August 23rd 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

The city of Tevanne runs on scrivings, industrialised magical inscriptions that make inanimate objects sentient; they power everything, from walls to wheels to weapons. Scrivings have brought enormous progress and enormous wealth – but only to the four merchant Houses who control them. Everyone else is a servant or slave, or they eke a precarious living in the hellhole called the Commons.

There’s not much in the way of work for an escaped slave like Sancia Grado, but she has an unnatural talent that makes her one of the best thieves in the city. When she’s offered a lucrative job to steal an ancient artefact from a heavily guarded warehouse, Sancia agrees, dreaming of leaving the Commons – but instead, she finds herself the target of a murderous conspiracy. Someone powerful in Tevanne wants the artefact, and Sancia dead – and whoever it is already wields power beyond imagining.

Sancia will need every ally, and every ounce of wits at her disposal, if she is to survive – because if her enemy gets the artefact and unlocks its secrets, thousands will die, and, even worse, it will allow ancient evils back into the world and turn their city into a devastated battleground.

I am such a huge fan of Robert Jackson Bennett’s style of fantasy, I practically jumped when I realized he has a new series starting this year. This book featured prominently on my most anticipated releases list and I am happy to report that I enjoyed it a whole lot, for the most part. I have spent the better part of two weeks trying to come up with a way to review this book. I am such a huge fan of Bennett’s work and his ideas and there is in fact a lot to adore here, but I also need to be honest. It took me more than half of this book to really find my groove. It’s not like the first have is bad but my expectations were so very high. And if I didn’t have this much trust in his imagination I might have given up. I am glad I persevered because the pay off really is worth it.

What Bennett does best is creating these really unique worlds that feel lived in and plausible and very very well thought out. Here he gives us a spin on industrialized (and monopolized) magic with just the right amount of mysticism to be exciting and new. He does set up his world a little too well though in the beginning, the info-dump did start to grate and I am not sure I need to be reminded of the magic system’s rules as often as I was here (this is something that bores me in a lot of very descriptive high fantasy though, so you probably should take my opinion with a grain of salt). When everything came together though, I was very glad for him to have taken his time establishing the world because those last 50 pages? They were pure perfection. I cannot wait where this goes next.

Another thing I appreciate about Bennett’s writing is the way his female character feel properly realized and wonderfully easy to root for. I wanted Sancia to be happy so bad and I love how authentic she felt. I like that she her behaviour always made sense in relation to what we as readers know of her. Gregor on the other hand did feel for too long like a cartoon character but again, the pay off here was really worth it in the end. Bennett has really interesting things to say about agency and fate and I am so here for this.

I received this arc courtesy of NetGalley and Quercus Publishing/ Jo Fletcher Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff

10153529Verdict: Stunning.

My rating: 4,5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Short Stories, Fiction

Published by Windmill Books, 2009

Find it on Goodreads.

Lauren Groff’s critically acclaimed “The Monsters of Templeton” was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers 2008, and critics hailed her as an enormous talent and a writer to watch. In “Delicate Edible Birds”, she fulfils that promise. “Delicate Edible Birds” includes nine stories of vastly different styles and structures. “L. De Bard and Aliette” recreates the tale of Abelard and Heloise in New York during the 1918 flu epidemic; “Lucky Chow Fun” returns to Templeton, the setting of Groff’s debut novel, for a contemporary account of what happens to outsiders in a small, insular town; the title story of “Delicate Edible Birds” is a harrowing, powerfully moving drama about a group of war correspondents, a lone woman among them, who fall prey to a frightening man in the French countryside while fleeing the Nazis. With a dazzling array of voices and settings, “Delicate Edible Birds” will cement Lauren Groff’s reputation as one of the foremost talents of her generation.

I love Lauren Groff. And I am trying to be better about reading other books authors I love have written, so I am currently making my way through her back catalogue and I am seriously happy about it. I think I liked this short story collection even more than her new one (which I reviewed earlier this year) and I enjoyed that one immensely. But this collection here just blew me away.

I am in awe of Lauren Groff’s command of language – every single sentence ist perfectly done while not making the writing sound clinical but rather organic and captivating. I also really like the way she structures her stories – they never felt like they were working towards a punchline but rather their endings were perfectly done. Some stories I would have loved to spend more time with but I mean that as a compliment.

I do have the same problem with these short stories that I had with Groff’s second collection: I am not too keen on her descriptions of overweight bodies; and the fixation on weight did not always work for me. I cannot quite put my finger on why I think she does this, but I do wish she stopped focussing on weight so much. But for me it never crossed the line into problematic territory and as such is not enough to ruin my enjoyment of these brilliant short stories.

My favourite of the bunch is the last story “Delicate Edible Birds” – I loved it so much I considered giving the collection 5 stars because it ended on such a high note. Set during the Second World War (which I usually am not too keen on), this story is told from different perspectives of a group of journalists fleeing Paris on the eve of its occupation. It was harrowing and wonderful and absolutely beautifully written. Bern, the female main character, was so absolutely brilliant, I wish there was a whole book about her.

Review: Ayiti by Roxane Gay

36739756Verdict: I was always going to love it. I mean, it’s Roxane Gay.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Short Stories, General Fiction

Published by Grove Atlantic, June 12th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

In Ayiti, a married couple seeking boat passage to America prepares to leave their homeland. A young woman procures a voodoo love potion to ensnare a childhood classmate. A mother takes a foreign soldier into her home as a boarder, and into her bed. And a woman conceives a daughter on the bank of a river while fleeing a horrific massacre, a daughter who later moves to America for a new life but is perpetually haunted by the mysterious scent of blood.

Surprising absolutely no-one, I loved this. I am a huge Roxane Gay fan and I love her short fiction nearly as much as her non-fiction. This collection of short stories showcasts Gay’s tremendous talent and her brilliant voice. While this cannot quite reach the highs of her second collection (very few things do), I still adored this.

Gay’s stories center around pain. There is no way around that. These stories are grim and dark and very depressing. But she also, always, adds some hope, some light, and does so expertly and brilliantly.

There was not a single story in this collection that I didn’t like, which is very rare for me when it comes to short story collections. I do admit to finding the collection overwhelming in parts because of the grim subject matter and had to take frequent breaks after particularly grueling stories – but never for long because Roxane Gay has a very distinct, very brilliant voice and I cannot imagine a world where I won’t read every single thing she produces. Her observations are sharp and her thoughts on identity and pain and family and loyalty and living are important and necessary and so very very brilliant (I cannot help but speak in superlatives; after all Roxane Gay is one of my very favourite authors).

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Bluets – Maggie Nelson

31817300Verdict: A near perfect book.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Date read: April 15th, 2018

Published by Jonathan Cape, 2017 (First published 2009)

Find it on Goodreads.

Bluets winds its way through depression, divinity, alcohol, and desire, visiting along the way with famous blue figures, including Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Yves Klein, Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol. While its narrator sets out to construct a sort of ‘pillow book’ about her lifelong obsession with the colour blue, she ends up facing down both the painful end of an affair and the grievous injury of a dear friend. The combination produces a raw, cerebral work devoted to the inextricability of pleasure and pain, and to the question of what role, if any, aesthetic beauty can play in times of great heartache or grief.

Much like Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, Bluets has passed between lovers in the ecstasy of new love, and been pressed into the hands of the heartbroken. Visceral, learned, and acutely lucid, Bluets is a slim feat of literary innovation and grace, never before published in the UK.

This is the third book by Maggie Nelson I have read and my favourite so far. I admire her craft very much and thought this book near perfect. It is a collection of short thoughts, brief paragraphs that pack a punch, all losely structured around the colour blue.

Maggie Nelson, as always, unapologetically places herself in the center of her art; I adore that. This is an introspective book centered around the loss of a partner and grief and depression and the injury of a close friend and, yes, the colour blue. She talks about many things, in fragmented but poignant form. There are not many writers that I know of who can pull this disjointed form off, but Maggie Nelson can and her thoughts shine with an urgency that I could not escape.

She has a brilliant way with words. Her writing is both theoretical (drawing on Wittgenstein and Goethe and Warhol and many writers more) and visceral (her descriptions of sex are graphic and honest) in a way that I find mesmerizing and very difficult to describe. She mixes these two parts of her writing so effortlessly that it seems easy and like her sentences just flow out of her without further editing (and I am sure this is far from the truth). A near perfect book.

First sentence: “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.”

Review: The Girl in The Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2) – Katherine Arden

35004343My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: November 13th, 2017

Published by Random House, Ebury Press, January 25th 2018

Verdict: Atmospherical, beautiful, stressful.

Find it on Goodreads.

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya
will choose a third way: magic…

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

I adore the world Katherine Arden has created here. The things I loved, loved, loved about the first part of this series are still all here:

  • brilliant characters with believable interactions,
  • sibling relationships that are complicated and true,
  • an atmosphere so all-encompassing that it makes you forget your own surroundings,
  • wonderfully immersive descriptions,
  • a surprising and wonderful way to construct sentences that just sound like nobody else (in the best possible way) while still retaining that fairy-talesque rhythm that makes this series so readable,
  • an understanding of the essence of fairy-tales that shows itself in the brilliant way the familiar tropes are both used and subverted, and
  • the wonderful setting of Medieval Russia.
  • And many more things.

From the very first chapter I was fully immersed in the story as we follow Vasya fleeing her home town after the events of the last book lest she be burned as a witch. Having only herself and her horse Solovey to rely on, this book has much higher stakes than the first one. Vasya pretends to be a boy and gets not only herself but her older siblings Sasha and Olga caught up in a web of lies.

I was not quite as enamored as I was with the first book (although to be fair, that book was one of the best things I have read in years…). Most of that comes down to simple genre preferences. This second book is a lot more fast-paced while the first one created a wonderfully slow narrative with clever twists on familiar fairy tales; this book reads more like a conventional YA-Fantasy (albeit a brilliantly written and very beautiful one). My biggest problem was the “pretending to be someone else”-trope. This is one of my least favourite tropes and stresses me out to no end. The dread this built made this a very different read for me.

But beyond this tiny little issue, I was wildly pleased with this book; I adore what Katherine Arden has created here and I find her vision and her voice beyond exciting. I am happy to have been there from the beginning and I cannot imagine not reading each and every single thing she will ever write.

First sentence: “A girl rode a bay horse through a forest late at night.”

I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Random House, Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.