So it’s been a while since one of these.
There are a lot of reasons for that – personal life getting in the way, as well as being occupied with other writing projects, as well as spending much of the last few months rereading the entirety of the Wheel of Time series (and while I could just recommend my favorite Wheel of Time books of the month, I decided to refrain).
But now that I’m back to reading fresh material, I figured I should get back in the rhythm of doing my month “best of” recaps. I’ve decided to include a few bonus books that didn’t make it into the gap of the last couple months.
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
I’m including both of these in one because they really have to go together. I recommend having them both on hand if possible, so you can read them one after the other.
I read the first book in Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, and didn’t really take to it. It felt very trope-y in ways that didn’t appeal. But this duology of books, set in the same universe (but no background knowledge necessary) blew me away. The ensemble cast is wonderful – all of them complex, with their own motives. Kaz Brekker was an especial delight to me, but every single member of the group stands out in their own way, and Bardugo balances the ensemble perfectly – which is not an easy thing to do.
I don’t usually go for heist stories, but this was a heist story that twisted in all the right ways and kept up its breakneck pace without feeling rushed. My only criticism was that sometimes the flashbacks felt a little clumsily handled, but on the whole…gold stars all around.
I want more with these characters, I really do.
Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb
It feels a little like cheating to include the third book of a trilogy that is really the conclusion of a nine book arc (possibly more than that, if you include the other series in the same world). But I thought it bore mentioning anyway, if only because it was an intensely emotional reading experience and an immensely satisfying conclusion to a very long arc – one that I’ve been reading for a long, long time.
Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy (beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice) was one of my earliest introductions to the fantasy genre – up there with Wheel of Time and David Eddings’ Belgariad. The Fitz and the Fool trilogy is a gorgeous, heart-wrenching conclusion to that saga. Dragged out of his retirement by the kidnapping of his daughter, Bee, Fitz and his lifelong friend and beloved, the Fool, journey across the world to find her.
Part of what was so rewarding about this end to the series was that it circled back to so many things from before – drawing lines back to the beginning, recalling old characters, bringing things full circle.
No spoilers, but I cried at the end. I cried so much.
Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
I wrote a full review of this book a while ago – Can the Y’ha-nlein Speak? was the title, and that probably tells you a lot both a) about me and b) about this book and why I loved it.
The recent crop of novels that take H.P. Lovecraft’s work, turn it on its head, and shake it to see what comes out are wonderful, and I always want more of them. This is a particularly stellar one, taking on a voice that we’re never given in the original stories and showing the world from a different point of view. Aphra Marsh is – or was – a resident of Innsmouth before the government destroyed it and herded her and her entire family into internment camps, where everyone but she and her brother died.
There is a plot about Aphra joining a circle aiming to prevent the theft of dangerous occult knowledge by the Russians, but as I wrote in my longer review, “the real story of Winter Tide is letting the voiceless others of Lovecraft’s stories speak….it takes the grotesqueries of Lovecraftian legend and gives them a kind of beauty, inverted through other eyes.”
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
This book blew me away.
It’s been described as a combination of Cabaret and John le Carre, but honestly I have just been pitching it as “Cabaret but with more gays.” Except it’s so much better than that.
Taking place in the decadent city of Amberlough with a fascist party on the rise, Amberlough follows the threads of three people: Cyril DePaul, a government agent being dragged back into the field to stop the coming coup; his lover the smuggler Aristide Makricosta, whose day job is as emcee/stripper at a nightclub, and Cordelia Lehane, a former prostitute who works at the same nightclub.
This book is about a few things. It’s not a morality tale about the threat of fascism, though that current is certainly there – and once again relevant as fascism rears its head again across the globe. It’s a story about resistance, and art as resistance, and self-interested people who aren’t actually that self-interested after all.
You know how things are going to end, but at the same time you don’t – and even knowing how they’ll end you continue to hope they can be stopped. Somehow, let it be stopped.
Amberlough burns, but it burns in every way that it needs to.
So there’s April’s set of recommended reads. I plan to do a write up for the above-mentioned Wheel of Time reread at some point in the near future, as it was a really good experience and I’d like to talk some about the things I noticed on rereading (for the first time, actually – at least for the whole series). I’m also shortly going to be embarking on the rather ambitious project of Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, which is, as far as I can tell, ten books plus three prequels. I’m also going to finally be picking up some Mercedes Lackey for the first time.
In short, I have a lot of epic fantasy in my future. But hey! That’s what I like.