And finally I come to a month where I read some books that I really liked! I’m so happy to finally feel like I have some things to talk about (positively) in one of these posts, after the recent slew of disappointments (most not even severe enough to trash talk, just sort of a mild let-down.
As I march toward the end of the year (and presumably a “best of” list, as I did last year) I continue to chip slowly away at my to-read list while steadily adding more things to read. I’m hoping that with my bad-luck book streak possibly at an end, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to reading.
Maybe next year I’ll even try to be systematic about it.
The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein
This was a recommendation received via a care package from a friend. I’d never heard of this book before (shockingly enough, given that a) I love books inspired by mythology and b) my favorite character in Arthurian legend is a tie between Morgan Le Fay and Mordred) and that made it especially exciting to discover a new gem. Fairly short and a quick read, leaning heavily on Welsh versions of the Arthurian mythos, The Winter Prince follows Medraut, Arthur’s bastard son, and his complex relationships with his younger half brother Lleu and his mother Morgause.
Any books about complex, messy familial relationships, particularly between siblings, tend to capture my heart, and this was a lovely one – gracefully written with a beautiful arc to the end. Usually first person narration is a turn off for me, but Wein made it work perfectly, and Medraut is a sensitively sketched and compelling character to follow.
Apparently there’s a series, but I’m less interested in the following books – this one feels like it stands best on its own.
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
This year has kind of been “the year of Lovecraft retellings” (between this one, Lovecraft Country, and The Ballad of Black Tom) and more specifically “the year of looking critically at Lovecraft through retellings”. I think I recommended the other two books mentioned above, and I’m also, perhaps predictably, recommending this one. The title is a play on a lesser known Lovecraft novella called “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, but instead of following that story’s male protagonist as he explores the strange and treacherous Dreamlands, Vellitt Boe follows an older woman whose student has absconded to the waking world with a dreamer.
Kij Johnson takes the reader through landscapes that will be familiar to readers of Lovecraft, but with a different tilt in perspective. The journey has all the strangeness and grotesquerie of the original Lovecraft while offering something entirely fresh and different.
Non-Lovecraftians can probably enjoy this one as well, though they may want to have a search engine handy for some of the creatures and names referenced, and perhaps glance over a primer of Lovecraft cosmology. Though personally I remember liking “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, so if you’re not actively opposed maybe give it a read – and then come back to this book.
The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike
Quite frankly, this book scared the pants off me in a way a book hasn’t managed to do in a long while. The only reason this one dropped from a five star to a four star was some awkwardness in the translation (mostly the rendering of what I’m guessing is a familial honorific with “Sis”) but the story itself? Dang.
The basic concept is fairly straightforward, almost cliche – a family moves into an apartment building adjacent to a cemetary, only to begin to notice strange happenings afoot. Koike’s storytelling, however, builds the tension masterfully, and explanations that might dilute the fear are kept minimal. The family itself is haunted as well by their past: Misao and Teppei married shortly following the suicide of Teppei’s former wife while they were having an affair.
The pacing and gradual amping up of the tension were probably the biggest winners when it came to this book, though the visual of [spoiler] the window covered by ghostly handprints was another thing that’s going to stick in my head for a while. While it suffered from some awkward writing (that I attribute mostly to the translation), this book was eerie enough for me to feel it’s worth recommending.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
So I’m finally dipping my toes into Brandon Sanderson waters, after years of only having read the Wheel of Time books he worked on. This book is…kind of a weird one for me to recommend, because I have two major caveats. The first is that I am somewhat disappointed by the way the question of the major antagonist’s identity was solved. (I had a much more thematically interesting idea in mind, honestly, but that’s because I love stories of corrupted ideologues who still, somehow, believe they’re doing the necessary thing.) The second is that I’m not really a fan of mechanical magic systems, and this book definitely features a mechanical magic system, with a great deal of verbiage dedicated to explaining exactly how it works.
That said – it was a good book, and once I was hooked I was hooked to the end. The characters are delightful, and there was one twist toward the end that I actually didn’t see coming at all (though in retrospect I probably should have).
I don’t know that I’d say I’m thoroughly onboard the Sanderson train yet, but I’m definitely intrigued, and planning on picking up the next book in the series (just as soon as I read these other five).
That’s all for October. My planned reading for November (as always, subject to change) includes The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente, The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu, and possibly The Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn.