Looking back at this month, I did not feel like I had read that much. So imagine my surprise when I actually checked and discovered that I had, in fact, read a great deal. Of course, some of that has to do with the luxury of Thanksgiving weekend giving plenty of quality reading time, but it probably also has to do with the fact that a lot of the books I picked up were good.
Without further ado, this month’s recommendations.
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I’m so glad that someone threw this recommendation at me, because this is the kind of sci-fi that I love.
Sprawling and elegant (and only published in the UK and Australia, so I’m especially grateful for the recommendation), Children of Time follows two parallel strands: one the story of a band of humans on an ark ship escaped from a dying Earth, seeking a new home, and the other about a planet seeded with evolutionary potential – that ends up developing along unexpected lines.
The worldbuilding Tchaikovsky does with the planet in question is exceptional and detailed, following along fascinating, logical but alien lines. He explores what to me is some of the most interesting potential in science fiction: the possibilities for life that is nothing like our own, and yet that makes perfect logical sense. While the copy on the book jacket advertises a clash between civilizations, in reality that clash does not come until the very end of the book and spans a remarkably brief period of time. This isn’t a book about war.
Slow moving, spanning millenia of time, and yet somehow managing at every step to be compelling and emotionally engaging, this was a surprising gem of a book that delves into issues of empathy, sentience, and the links between people – or, in one half of the two storylines, between spiders.
Oh, yes. Adrian Tchaikovsky managed to make me feel very fond of some spiders. That on its own is a significant accomplishment.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Every so often I run into a book that reminds me of the feeling of reading as a kid – the wonder, the delight, the incredible feeling of sudden unexpected vistas opening in front of me. The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers did it, and now The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland managed it too.
Catherynne Valente’s unique style may not be to everyone’s taste, thick as it is with asides to the reader and sly winking commentary on itself, but the way it plays with textuality, fairytales, and the combined wonder and terror of childhood is masterful. September finds herself swept away from her house one night, climbing onto the back of a leopard that flies her to Fairyland – a country rich with strange bureaucracy under the mysterious and sinister Marquess.
I’m very much excited to pick up the sequels to this book – there are several – and further explore the world Valente has begun to sketch here.
Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters
I’d never heard of this book before I picked it up, but was intrigued by the summary: a woman who has lost everything in a catastrophic fire finds herself drawn to a photo album seemingly possessed by an entity that promises to make her whole.
Paper Tigers is creepy and atmospheric, and beautifully paced. The action starts slowly, laying the groundwork of the lonely life that the main character leads, isolated by the horrific burn scars that mar her whole body. The action picks up quickly, however, the strangeness accelerating and the menace on the horizon growing darker and darker, racing to the final pages.
Damien Angelica Walters has lovely prose and an evocative sense of both atmosphere and character. I’ve talked before about how I’m pretty picky with my horror, but this one was an absolute knockout.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
This book plays as a sort of companion to McGuire’s novella Every Heart a Doorway, which I wanted to like much more than I did. This book I thought was much better. The story felt less rushed, better paced, and its portrait of two sisters with a strained relationship (but eternal loyalty) was certainly something that drew me.
It might be beneficial to read Every Heart a Doorway first for an introduction to the two main characters of this novella: Jack and Jill, or Jacqueline and Jillian, a pair of twins who stumble out of their distant and restrictive parents’ home into a strange, dark world.
Honorable Mention: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
I finally finished the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie this month, and while I can’t say that I loved it with the same fervor many of my friends did, I can say that I highly recommend it. Unique in concept and execution, and with an eleventh hour plot twist I did not see coming (and particularly enjoyed as a solution), it was certainly a pleasure to read.
I would have enjoyed more time spent exploring the Presger (as always, what often draws me to science fiction is aliens, the weirder the better), but as it stands, I can comfortably give this series my warm regards.
Moving into the final month of the year (and starting to look at what 2016’s Best Of List might look like), I don’t have any definite reading plans. But I’m looking forward to seeing what crops up.