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Books read, early February

Benjamin Breen, Tripping on Utopia: Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science. This was really interesting but there were places where I feel like it suffered from Breen wanting Mead to be able to have accomplished things that were beyond the scope of her power. I think he made an incredibly clear case that Timothy Leary was a toxic force in the study of psychedelics on the human consciousness–that seems nearly irrefutable–and his points about the context of what we now call psychedelia before the 1960s were very interesting. But when he leaned into the idea that Mead could have, by championing therapeutic use of psychedelics, changed the course of attitudes, he seems to be ignoring her context as a woman, a mother, and a closeted bisexual person–and I think ignoring the people who tried to change those attitudes and were ignored in multiple directions. It’s a tempting counterfactual, what if Margaret Mead instead of Timothy Leary. It just…doesn’t hold up for more than a short story. Still, gosh the early 20th was full of people mucking around with each other’s brains, wow.

Anne de Courcy, Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944 and Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in Jazz Age Paris. I really like de Courcy’s work in general, and I went and got these two from the library because they were the two the library had that I hadn’t read yet. They were disappointing. I think there is an important line a biographer walks where enthusiasm for the subject cannot be permitted to cross the line into making excuses for the subject, and de Courcy repeatedly crosses it here. This is particularly clear because I picked up these books due to enthusiasm for the biographer rather than the subject. She claims that Chanel’s Riviera is not a biography of Chanel but of this particular snapshot of place and time, which means several things in practice: one, it means that the balance of how much the book is about Chanel and how much it’s about other people is always very weird, and two, it means that there is a lot of telling what’s interesting about Chanel that de Courcy doesn’t feel she has to do. The problem is that I…don’t actually already agree that Chanel was amazing and wonderful and extraordinary. So that when de Courcy falls back on these adjectives, which she did in basically every sentence in which she had to refer to Chanel’s Antisemitism, I have not already been convinced that her style of dress was uniquely worth it. Some of de Courcy’s arguments were just jaw-dropping, like: well, she collaborated, but you see she was used to having a man in her bed. Oh okay. Oh sure well then. It was…not her most coherent work. Magnificent Rebel was not a lot better, arguing for the importance of some relationships over others not with particular focus on Cunard’s life as a whole but more because de Courcy felt like it–sometimes with Paris as the heart of the argument, often not. She wanted to focus on how Cunard promoted the work of Black writers but often made excuses for places where Cunard actively abused those Black writers on a professional and a personal level. There were interesting points here but far too much handwaving for my taste. Earlier work better. Sigh.

Camille T. Dungy, Trophic Cascade. I seem to be working my way backwards through Dungy’s life and oeuvre. The child I first met as an opinionated tween in Soil is a fetus and infant in these poems, and this combined with change in genre is fascinating. Seeing what she was talking about people asking her about writing about nature and race and parenthood, having that back story going in, doesn’t take away a single bit of its power.

Davinia Evans, Shadow Baron. This is in some sense a reread, but the version I’d read before was the manuscript form, and this is the finished version, and it did not disappoint. Lots of ramification from the first book, more magic, more adventure, the world going even deeper, so much fun, recommended.

Marco Fontani, Mariagrazia Costa, and Mary Virginia Orna, The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table’s Shadow Side. These authors very earnestly wanted to be the next Primo Levi, writing a book about the things that were mistakenly identified as elements. Their writing is not limpid and lovely, it is workhorse prose–and the history of mistakenly thinking that you’ve isolated a new element is less exciting than the history of correctly thinking you have. Only a few of these stories were the wacky errors of science tales I was hoping for. Mostly it was, yes, here’s another time someone was wrong, yes, and another. Also there was a lot of weirdly earnest biographical information about who loved their spouse or child and what they died of, which is in some ways sweet but not particularly vivid. Read this if you’re interested in the information it contains, not if you’re interested in reading per se; it would be just as nice beamed directly into your brain.

E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread. Kindle. This is Forster’s first book, and it has some really lovely parts, well-observed and sometimes witty and sometimes affecting. If you have a friend who loves Italy to the point of viewing it as the solution to all mortal ills, you may laugh out loud at several parts. However. The very ending of this book, and this is a spoiler and I am not sorry for it, the book is over a hundred years old and this is intense, features one of the most gratuitous infant deaths I have ever encountered in fiction. “Yeah, and then this asshole screwed up and the baby died.” It was heavy-handed, it was awful, and I want to warn about it in the strongest of terms, because in some ways Forster is clear about its effects and then in other ways I’m like…no…I don’t think that’s all, there, Morgan. I cannot say it was worth it. No. Really not.

Nicola Griffith, Spear. Reread. Two different book clubs I’m in or near were reading this, and it was no hardship whatsoever to sink back into Peredur’s story, rich as it is in its own angles and deeds and decisions.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven. Reread. Also a book club choice, and I hoped I would like it better than the last time I read it, which was my senior year of high school. I think I respected it more, which is not really the same thing; Le Guin wanted to tell a story where not-doing is the correct choice for good reasons, and I get that, but there were lots of places where I felt like the results still jarred. I would also note that it’s good that she had a chance to grow out of some of these choices–explicitly treating whiteness as the racially unmarked case in ways that I feel sure she would not and did not do later in her career, for example. This is going to remain not my favorite Le Guin, and that’s okay.

Premee Mohamed, The Butcher of the Forest. Discussed elsewhere.

Marieke Nijkamp and Sylvia Bi, Ink Girls. A middle-grade comic of defying censorship and a community coming together to demand justice, in case you know anybody who’s feeling like something like that right now.

Saghïmbay Orozbaq uulu, The Memorial Feast for Kökötöy Khan: A Kirghiz Epic Poem in the Manas Tradition. One of my friends heard I was on an epic kick and sent this one along for comparison, and I’m grateful, because some of it is very similar to other epics I’ve read–comparing this Muslim epic to Roland in terms of how the religious out-group is treated was fascinating, so many parallels–and some of it is very, very different. The scene of how the wrestling champion gets into his tight pants is clearly done in formula terms, for example, and yet is not one I’ve seen elsewhere. There is significantly explicit sexual content here as well as quite a lot of violence, so if you’re thinking “cultural epic” means “read it to the wee kiddies for bedtime,” well, make sure you share premodern nomadic standards for the wee kiddies’ bedtime before you do.

S. E. Porter, Projections. Discussed elsewhere.

Melissa Scott, Five-Twelfths of Heaven, Silence in Solitude, and The Empress of Earth. Rereads. This is a trilogy, and I read it in an omnibus volume. It’s got a plucky young pilot overcoming sexism to fly spaceships and later join the previously all-male magi and find the lost road to Earth. I found it readable while I was reading it, but once I was away from each volume some of the emotional motivations seemed very opaque: Silence has now fallen in love with her convenience spouses? Why? One of them does not seem very lovable to me, nor does she seem to have had the chance to have found lovable traits not shown on the page. And their choice of habitation for the very ending…seems like it would make all of them miserable, absolutely miserable, and seemed completely unmotivated. So it was a case of enjoying the experience and then turning it over and not really enjoying the aftermath as much, not because anything became offensive so much as because the length constraints of the time didn’t permit Scott the space to go into as much of the characters’ psychology as I think would have been beneficial–because these were from the era of very short space opera.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Little Nugget. Kindle. This is entirely forgettable Wodehouse. The title refers to an unpleasant spoiled rich boy, assumptions about whom are entirely period, the protagonist agrees to kidnap him for reasons that never hold up very well, and in general if you are on an airplane and this is on your e-reader, fine, but I see no reason to seek it out.

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Projections, by S. E. Porter

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is an absolutely beautifully done book in a darker vein than I would usually pursue, and if it had not been sent me as an ARC I probably would not have read it. The protagonist is brutally murdered on the first page, and she spends her afterlife screaming in horror and rage. Screaming. Throughout. Also doing other things, but the scream reverberates through the book very successfully.

Angus was sure that Catherine was his true love, his destiny. The two of them belonged together–and they were supposed to be doing magic. Grand, glorious magic! Magic in a city of magic, far from the ordinary world of mid-19th century America in which they grew up! And if Catherine didn’t see it that way–if she wanted to choose her own love, her own destiny, her own home and her own focus within it–why, he would make her see it that way. Using whatever tools he had to hand. Hence the murder on page one. Hence the ripping of her screaming ghost into the magical city, there to exist for hundreds of years while he attempts over and over again to project pieces of himself into the mundane world to find the girls most like her and convince them to love him–or else.

Catherine’s journey toward agency and even triumph is not fast or linear. It’s well-done, but it’s not an easy book to read. Flashbacks to her living years underscore rather than relieve the horror of her afterlife, and the moments of hope and sweetness are present but small, contained–fleeting?–not entirely fleeting. But let us say that Porter does not give her heroine a victory that anyone could accuse of being too easily earned. If you’ve ever grown frustrated with the magicians of grand destiny and their high-handed ways, this one might be for you.

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The Butcher of the Forest, by Premee Mohamed

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is an online pal.

Look, even those of us who aren’t Premee’s friends online have learned by now that you do not pick up a Premee Mohamed novella in hopes of the teddy bears having their picnic. There is…outdoor eating? in this one? That’s as close as you’re going to get. Oh: and the children’s nice dog is safely left home, tied up in the kennel. The dog is Sir Not Appearing In This Dark Fantasy, you’re welcome.

Because nobody else is really having a nice day in this book. Nobody else is having the day they hoped for.

Veris Thorne is the only person ever to come out of the North Forest alive, with the child she meant to save from it. Only she has ever braved its magic and won. So when the tyrant’s two children go missing, it’s Veris who’s sent after them–under threat of the destruction of her entire village. It’s Veris who must dodge and feint and bargain with the powers of magic–and get two clueless privileged children to obey her in every particular–or she will lose everything she loves. That is, everything she loves that the tyrant has not taken already.

“Maybe I’ll start this tonight and finish it tomorrow,” I said to myself late last evening. “Maybe I’ll just read a little, and the rest in the morning. It’s been a long week, and I don’t have to read it all now.” Ha. HA. Well, the good news is that it is a novella, so when you make a bad choice like that, it won’t cost you too much sleep. Entirely engrossing.

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Books read, late January

Robyn Arianrhod, Seduced by Logic: Émilie du Châtelet, Mary Somerville, and the Newtonian Revolution. Not really evenly distributed, with more weight given to our own dear Marquise, which…no shade on Mary Somerville there, but who could blame her. This is a work biography, this is focused on the work and the ideas in their lives, and I like it that way, but if you’re not interested in how they thought about physics and helped others to think about physics in context, it won’t be the book for you.

Gwenda Bond, The Frame-Up. Discussed elsewhere.

A.S. Byatt, The Matisse Stories. Reread. I carefully marked “NO” on a little PostIt note on the last story last time around, and I trusted my past self, I don’t do things like that without very solid reasons, so it was a short and stormy volume, full of contained and vivid stories that did not take me long.

George Eliot, Middlemarch. Reread. The opposite, of course, of short and stormy. I was going to reread this just a bit at a time for an approaching book club discussion of it. Ha. The minute I started rereading Middlemarch, the wit of the voice, the engagement with the characters, drew me in, and I didn’t want to be reading anything else–or in fact doing much of anything else until I was all the way through to that amazing last line. So keenly observed, so great, knowing where it was going only enhanced the “OH FRED NO” moments.

Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, Border Radio: Quacks, Yodelers, Pitchmen, Psychics, and Other Amazing Broadcasters of the American Airwaves. A rather strange book, focusing on the extremely strong signal radio stations that sprung up along the Mexican border, taking advantage of the difference in regulations to reach American listeners with a variety of ideas and products. Fowler and Crawford have some quirks of their own and were particularly thrilled, from the looks of it, to have a chance to interview Wolfman Jack personally. I learned a lot here about an area of history I otherwise didn’t know much about. But gosh how weird.

Kate Heartfield, The Valkyrie. The Ring of the Nibelung retold in an engaging fantasy novel, very much the southern (German) part of Valkyrie stories but they’re theirs too. Engaging and fun, recommended.

Coco Irvine, Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age. This extremely short volume is a bit of “how the other half lived” For me: Summit Ave. is a quite wealthy street in St. Paul, and Coco Irvine was living a fairly privileged life pretty much parallel to my own great-grandmother’s across the river in Minneapolis in a very tiny apartment with her immigrant family. Interesting to watch the social history unfold but also to see similarities as well as differences across the class lines. So very very short.

Kelly Link, The Book of Love. Discussed elsewhere.

Jo Miles, Warped State. The first in a space opera series featuring labor activism, which I hoped from that summary would be my jam and it absolutely was, whew and hurray, glad there’s more already out there and still coming. I don’t think I’ve read anybody thinking about the difficulties of union organization with multiple sentient species in quite the way Jo has, and there’s so much more room here, more like this please.

Naomi Mitchison, Small Talk…Memories of an Edwardian Childhood. Another short memoir focused on an early 20th century young woman, but Mitchison’s prose voice is much smoother and more assured, and she knew a great many interesting people even as a small child due to being one of those Haldanes. Niels Bohr gave her a jug for her dollhouse, for heaven’s sake. It’s still not the first or even fourth thing I’d recommend someone read by Naomi Mitchison, but its appeal is somewhat more general to people interested in the early 20th than the Irvine memoir.

Malka Older, The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles. Discussed elsewhere.

Anna Marie Roos, Martin Lister and His Remarkable Daughters. Early scientific illustration as a family affair, interesting and detailed for such a short work.

Noel Streatfeild, Judith, Shepherdess of Sheep, and The Whicharts. Kindle. Wow, so: three very different books here. All three of these are her adult work, but Judith is Streatfeild in a very familiar mode to those who have read all of her children’s books: this is the “you damn kids need to learn to stand on your own two feet, and it’s the fault of those who raised you that you aren’t doing it already.” As an adult book there’s room for a different set of problems–adults presuming sexual precocity from teenagers and treating them badly because of it, for example–but generally it’s preachy as heck. Shepherdess of Sheep is an attempt to explore the care of young children in a family where one child is developmentally disabled in a way that was not well-understood at the time (and is not actually all that wonderfully understood now, to be fair), but while the protagonist spends most of the book fighting the ableism of those around her (including the man she loves), she ends up succumbing to it in the worst possible way. Of the three books, The Whicharts is the only one I’ll probably even consider rereading or recommending to anyone else, and it is a weird, weird book. This is the grown-up book that was rewritten to be Ballet Shoes, basically, and there are places where it is word for word the same book and places where it is absolutely not. When one major character died, it was the strangest feeling, because it was like losing someone I’d known since childhood…and also not, because she is very much not the same person. (The pronoun is not a spoiler; as with Ballet Shoes, the overwhelming majority of the major characters are female.) If you’re someone who loved Petrova best, this book is proof that so did Noel Streatfeild. If you loved the glamour of stage life…perhaps stick with the children’s books, she is not interested in giving you glamour here. Pauline is the most different–so incredibly different–Posy is just the same but not really a person, but yes, Posy is not really a person in Ballet Shoes either–wow, what a weird book, wow, to have Ballet Shoes but with directors groping teenage actresses who are the illegitimate daughters of WWI officers, wow, okay, wow. So weird.

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The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles, by Malka Older

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Mossa and Pleiti are back.

And unfortunately for them, their fellow citizens of the floating settlements above Jupiter–and its moons–are disappearing again. It’s up to Mossa to find them, or at least to figure out where they’ve gone, and university politics have reached enough of an unappealing fever pitch that Pleiti is all too glad to spend the time helping her instead. Even if it means going to Io, where everything is–gasp–stuck to the ground, and modes of transport are–oh horrors–not on rails but free form at the operator’s discretion. Who knows what might happen in a place like that. (Well, Mossa knows. She’s from there.)

I’m on the fence about whether I think this would work as well for people who hadn’t read The Mimicking of Known Successes. There’s a lot of characterization and worldbuilding in that volume that carries through into this one, and at such a short length there’s not really room to do everything again at full length. On the other hand, if you’re ready to pick up details by incluing I think it’s all there. On the other other hand, the first one is still in print and is quite short. So if you want to go get the feel for this detective relationship above Jupiter and where their bumps and uncertainties–with the world and with each other–are coming from, it’s not a huge time commitment. But if you haven’t reread the first one since it came out, Older will definitely remind you who’s who and what’s what as you go. I feel like the series is only getting better as it goes on, so to me it’s worth the time to read both.

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The Frame-Up, by Gwenda Bond

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a heist novel with a bit of magic in it. I want to distinguish this, because if you are hoping for a fantasy novel with a heist in it, you will be disappointed. This is not a book that intends to go deep into its magic theory, spending pages upon pages on how the magic works, who gets it and why, how they develop it, how they apply it, any of that. No. This is a book that looked at heist movies and said, I want a one of those. But with some magic.

Want that? You’ve got it. It’s got the bit where you find out the job, the bit where you get the team together, the bit where it’s all a little wobbly. It’s got a cute dog, a love triangle, a fancy gala, a really sketchy customer, and a terribly fraught emotional backstory to complicate the whole thing. It’s got the supply run and picking out the dress for the gala and the point where you think it can’t work but it has and the point where you’re sure it has worked and it hasn’t. It has all the things you want in a heist. Also the cute dog is not harmed in the making of this book.

But notice that those things were not the magic training sequence, the wise wizard mentor, the cool spell, or any of the other genre furniture for fantasy. Okay? Because this is a heist book, with some fantasy elements. Dani Poissant and her border collie Sunflower are absolutely here for your art theft needs. (I really, really like Sunflower.)

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The Book of Love, by Kelly Link

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Look, friends, this felt so comfortable, okay? This felt like–of course, of course this is what reading a Kelly Link novel feels like, haven’t I been doing this for years? I haven’t? It’s her first go at it? Really? Oh. So is it a novella, then, or a near-novella, sort of a stepping stone to dabble her toes into the land of novel? Nnnnnope it is an entire bugcrusher, it has the room to have secondary characters and subplots and texture to the setting.

So. Three young people disappear for a year from a small coastal Massachusetts town. This is not a thriller, it is a fantasy novel, so it’s not a great surprise that when the early reveal is that they’ve been dead all that year, they’re back, more or less intact, confused, interacting with magics they don’t entirely understand. Their high school music teacher seems to be at the center of it, but the more they learn, the less his centrality seems sure.

Of the three of them–Daniel, Laura, and Mo–two have lives that can fold them back into the magical explanation given by their music teacher for their absence. But Laura’s sister Susannah is not so easily swayed. Though she can’t quite place what’s wrong with the spell that’s cast on her, she knows something is–and she keeps circling around those memories and those feelings, trying to figure out what isn’t adding up. As Daniel, Laura, and Mo–and the other supernatural beings in their orbit–hurry to settle their relationships with life, death, this world, the next, and magic itself, before a disastrous figure brings catastrophe to all they love, Susannah keeps finding pieces of the answer to what really happened a year ago. And it’s her relationship with them, and their relationships with each other, that prove crucial in that answer.

We get time with each of the major characters, and many of the minor ones too. When one twist arose I knew immediately who it applied to and gasped “OH YOU HAD BETTER NOT,” not because it was predictable but because there was a tidal inevitability. But each crash of the tide in this book revealed something else fascinating on the shore, a new piece of glass or gnarled wood washed up its characters’ emotional lives, and the final resolution was one I could accept as satisfying even with some heartbreak along the way. As who would not expect heartbreak in a book of this title, this woven with life and death–and families? The main characters of The Book of Love are mainly achingly young, but Link doesn’t make the mistake of imagining young people to exist in some kind of youthful isolation. Each one is a grandchild, a child, a sibling, a friend, an employee, all things that turn out to matter crucially to their lives. It’s not The Book of [Romantic] Love, it’s just The Book of Love, wholeheartedly. Or as whole as hearts can remain in the land of the living, where there is suffering and loss. But it’s a much better book for all of these things being part of it, for taking the time and the space to allow these things to be part of it. I really loved this. I’m glad to have made a start on the years of reading Kelly Link novels.

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Books read, early January

C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher, Defiance. This is the latest atevi novel. Don’t start here, seriously, oh my goodness, do not start here, when you have to stop and count how many trilogies this is it is way too deep in the series to start here. There’s a lot of backstory piled up here and meaningful to the story. The set pieces are exciting and fun, the politics are moving along, it is very much not its own thing but rather a chunk of larger story. If you like that ongoing story, here’s some more.

Robert Darnton, The Revolutionary Temper: Paris 1748-1789. Darnton does a really fascinating, thorough job of tracing where Parisians of the pre-Revolutionary period were getting their ideas about the world, from formal and informal sources, local to international. Very cool as a window on worldviews before they solidified into our expectations, as well as this period of history in specific.

Emily J. Edwards, Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man. A mystery novel set in 1950, full of slang and clothes, short and zippy.

Margrét Helgadóttir, ed., Nordic Visions: The Best of Nordic Speculative Fiction. Dang, if it weren’t for the Finns this would be a very grim lot. Sit with that for a moment if you will.

Rosemary Kirstein, The Steerswoman’s Road, The Lost Steersman, and The Language of Power. Rereads. This was for book club, and there are so many things I like about this series…and I ended up putting a PostIt note in the first book to say not to read it again, because it’s very clearly not a thing Rosemary would do that way now (she has in fact said so), and…it makes me enjoy the other books less to watch the same characters enthusiastic about torture as a method of gaining reliable information, in a way that is supported by the narrative. The books are otherwise quite good at allowing characters to be wrong and find out their errors in ways that fiction is not always great at, and I enjoyed talking about how it all unfolded in book club. It remains one of the hardest series to pitch without spoilers.

Leah Myers, Thinning Blood: A Memoir of Family, Myth, and Identity. This was brief and pithy, a reflection on how we categorize who counts in which groups and what we take from our roots.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Warrior of the Wind. A sequel and very reliant on the events of the first one for its weight, but interesting once you’ve enjoyed that first one.

Elliot Rappaport, Reading the Glass: A Captain’s View of Weather, Water, and Life on Ships. Lots of good descriptions of weather and sailing, interesting in a genre we don’t get much of these days.

Christopher Rowe, The Navigating Fox. A very different–very fictional–meditation on roots and identity and belonging and loyalty. The fox and navigation in the title are not metaphorical.

Nisi Shawl, Kinning. Discussed elsewhere.

Georgia Summers, City of Stardust. Discussed elsewhere.

Steven Ujifusa, The Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia’s Jews on the Eve of World War I. Does what it says on the tin, and these are good details for us not to take for granted in the present world. I think especially if we’re reading a lot of fiction where evil is required to make sense, it’s good to be reminded that neither good nor evil is required to do so in the real world.

Susan Wels, An Assassin in Utopia: The True Story of a Nineteenth-Century Sex Cult and a President’s Murder. Nineteenth-century America was very, very small and also folded funny, so the Oneida Community had cousins in all sorts of places. This was brief and written rather vividly; the title by no means gives too expressive a sense of how sensationalist it intends to be.

Laura Zimmerman, Just Do This One Thing For Me. A really well-written YA novel that deals with difficult themes of child neglect without veering into “problem novel” territory. It is particularly outstanding in its loving and accurate portrayal of the protagonist’s eight-year-old brother. It also is quite good at small town Wisconsin life. Some readers will not want to read it because it’s too well done for its topic–a group of one grade school kid and two teens without reasonable adult supervision will be hard for some adult readers–but the characterization and writing is absolutely top-notch if that’s a topic you can cope with.

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Kinning, by Nisi Shawl

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The alternate history of Everfair was a creative work not quite like any seen before in the genre, bringing a steampunk story to a fictional African realm and peopling it with vivid and beautifully drawn characters. With Kinning Nisi Shawl returns us to Everfair in a direct sequel that takes it in a new direction.

Now siblings Tink and Bee-Lung have developed a fungus that bonds people into telepathic super-organisms, and Queen Josina is working behind the scenes to determine which of her children should inherit the throne of Everfair, who should be fungally bonded in which groups, and how else the fungus can be used for the benefit of Everfair and the world.

If this sounds like a major departure, it sure is. Everfair read like alternate history steampunk. Kinning, on the other hand, falls more into a trend I’ve noticed where contemporary authors take on tropes of the ’70s and redo them without the racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. that plagued the works of that era. So why not, the people who didn’t get to play with the toys the first time around should get to play with the toys, everybody gets a turn, this time someone’s actually thinking about not being gross about incest in addition to all the above-listed improvements. If you want “more of the same, only slightly different,” Shawl isn’t interested in doing that. If you want to see what she wanted to do next, here you go, this is it.

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The City of Stardust, by Georgia Summers

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Violet Everly has been under a curse she doesn’t understand her whole life. Her mother disappeared when she was ten, and she never knew her father. Her uncles have been raising her, but they aren’t very forthcoming about the bits of strangeness she’s seen at the edges of the world. She’s scrambling for clues not just about where her mother might be but why–and what else might be going on.

There’s a young man about her own age she’s only met a few times, Aleksander, who has a different set of clues than she does, but he’s still fumbling around the edges of a greater truth, in the face of older, more powerful people keeping him on the periphery. Violet and Aleksander have to determine whether they can be friends–allies–even more–or whether they will be forever at cross-purposes.

The title is, alas, only slightly apropos. This book has a lot in common with the subgenre known as dark academia, although the existence of people known as scholars doesn’t mean that the academy is playing a significant part. There is a dark glittering vividness to it, and yet the periphery is very vague, this is not a deeply worldbuilt book. There’s a lot of our own world, and only as much fantasy as the plot requires. It was a fast and entertaining read but didn’t leave me thinking of it much after.