Thornbound, by Stephanie Burgis

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend.

This is the sequel to Snowspelled, which I found utterly charming and full of snow, but I repeat myself. (I know, I know: not everyone finds snow as charming as I do.) (But! So much snow!) The seemingly natural force at work against Cassandra Harwood this time is fast-growing ivy–and it’s threatening her new school for magic, the first such to educate girls.

The interpersonal conflicts keep this story humming in the best possible way: with the characters motivated mostly by care so that the few who are motivated by animosity sticking out as unusual. The social webs in which all the characters exist are fascinating and believable, and their determination to strike out on new paths is inspiring as well as fun. I’m looking forward to the third in this series.

We’re getting the band back together!

Arkady Martine, Django Wexler, John Chu, and I had so much fun teaching the workshop at 4th St. Fantasy convention last year that we’re doing it again this year…but with a twist! This year’s theme is “Getting Unstuck.” Participants in the workshop should submit pieces they’re stuck on–not outlines but some prose written–and we’ll use tactics both usual and zany to get through the block. We’ll work on identifying patterns that contribute to getting stuck as well as ways out.

The deadline for signing up for the workshop is May 20, but it’s first-come first-served–AND convention membership rates go up on March 1–so now is a great time to sign up!

Present Writers: Gwyneth Jones (Ann Halam)

This is the latest in a recurring series! For more about the series, please read the original post on Marta Randall, or subsequent posts on Dorothy Heydt, Barbara Hambly, Jane Yolen, Suzy McKee Charnas, Sherwood Smith, Nisi Shawl, and Pamela Dean.

The more I do of this series of posts, the more I discover that one of the commonalities of writers I want to feature here is that they write with great variety–both on a range of topics and for a range of audiences.

The first Gwyneth Jones books I fell in love with were the series that starts with Bold As Love–all rock, all political, all relationships, all the time. Focused on the near future, the environment, and how people handle it as people–at basically every scale. Healthy dollop of weird science fiction mysticism.

But then I ran around trying to find as many others of her books as I could–a harder feat than it should be in the US, alas–there were very different things. Weird alien SF! Creepy kids’ books! Riffs on classics with heart and humanity! There are authors of whom you can say, “Well, it’s a one of those again, if you want that,” and…Gwyneth Jones doesn’t do that. Even the last book of the Bold As Love cycle departs strongly from the patterns and concerns of the rest of it. (The Grasshopper’s Child, and I love that one too.) There’s a lot of her back catalog for me to pore through bookstores to find, and I’m eager for it.


Books read, early February

Ben Aaronovitch, Lies Sleeping. This is the latest in this long urban fantasy series, and it relies very heavily on both plot and character arcs from earlier in the series. Good news: there is plenty of movement on things that have been going on for several books. Bad news: if you want to start somewhere, this is not it. Peter and his friends, enemies, relations are all barreling forward at top speed, but a lot of it will make no sense without the rest of the series.

Jill Baguchinsky, Mammoth. This is a charming YA about a plus-sized teenage fashionista with a passion for paleontology. It has a lot of genre-YA themes about finding yourself and also maybe someone else, but at the top of the list of things the protag finds is BONES so that is pretty great. I want to put a CW on this for the protagonist starting the book fixating on guessing other women’s weight. This is flagged as unhealthy but may still be difficult for some readers, so: choose when you read it accordingly.

Hans Bekker-Nielsen et al, eds., Mediaeval Scandinavia 1968. This is a hardbound annual journal for its field. A lot of the stuff therein has either become basic knowledge since then or gotten debunked, but there were still some interesting rune-deciphering passages. Not recommended unless you’re constantly eager for new medieval Scand studies stuff, which…I am.

Blair Braverman, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North. I read this author’s twitter, and she writes about dogsledding there. YAY I LIKE DOGS. It was also a good time for me to read about dogsledding, as I revise a book with significant amounts of dogsledding in it. This book…was not really about dogsledding. Very much at all. It was mostly about recovering from sexual abuse, assault, and trauma. Braverman chose to do that in the far north of Norway, and there are interesting cultural things going on there, and I engaged with this narrative, but–if you’re here for the dogsledding, not so much.

Roshani Chokshi, Aru Shah and the End of Time. This was a lovely, charming middle-grade adventure. I got a copy for a kid in my life for their birthday. Friendship and magic and figuring yourself out. Yay.

Linda Collister, The Great British Bake Off: Big Book of Baking and The Great British Bake Off: Perfect Cakes and Bakes to Make at Home. I flipped through these and wrote down exactly three recipes, but that’s actually pretty good for library cookbooks–I mostly am not a big recipe cook anyway.

Philip Cushway and Michael Warr, eds., Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. This was a harrowing book of protest poetry that was very much worth engaging with, a little at a time. I was a tiny bit frustrated that such a large percentage of the page count was dedicated to writing about each poet rather than showcasing their poems–for most poets there were more words dedicated to their bio than in their poems, which seems backwards to me. I feel like most of the poets showcased probably had more than one good protest poem. But the ones that were there were good to have.

Michael Eric Dyson, What Truth Sounds Like: RFK, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America. This traces the roots and results of a major meeting between American Black intelligentsia/artists and Robert F. Kennedy. Dyson has lots of ideas about the implications of this conversation and conversations like it, and this was fascinating–especially with the range of talent that Baldwin could get to show up on a moment’s notice.

Lissa Evans, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms. This is a fun MG about magic (the stage variety…or is it…) and puzzles and family.

Robert Frost, New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes. Kindle. Several of the “Grace Notes” are familiar, much-anthologized poems, tacked on here as extras. The “Notes” tend to be longer, often dialect-laden local poems. And then there’s the titular poem. It’s massive and rambly and reminds me a bit of W.H. Auden’s Letters from Iceland in form/style. I really like this geographical ramble poem thing. I would like a book of them. (But mostly I would like to reread Letters from Iceland because I love it unreasonably and Uncle Wys is the best.) (Ahem. Okay you can read Robert Frost too I guess, but really you probably already know that.) (AUDENNNN.)

Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf. All the other grimdark books are like teddy bears having their picnic compared to this. It is full of multiform rape, genital mutilation, excretion in its various types, cruelty…it is a lot. It is vividly imagined and beautifully written, and so, so very dark. It is doing things with worldbuilding that no one else has tried, and also it is so very dark.

Rosalie Knecht, Who Is Vera Kelly? This is both a spy novel and a young woman’s coming of age story. It is the kind of spy novel I have wanted, light and fun and firmly placed in space and time. It has the short, zippy chapters of some earlier works in this genre while leaving out the sexism. Yay for this book.

Rose MacAulay, Crewe Train. In many ways this is a charming and eccentric narrative of a young woman who does not want what she is told to want and the mild chaos that ensues in her life because of that fact. I will read more Rose MacAulay for sure, because this was intriguing and mostly good in an early 20th century way. However, I do feel the need to flag that there’s about a chapter of staggeringly racist content that is not only awful but completely unnecessary to the plot, the sort of thing that makes you repeat, “Rose, what are you doing, Rose, what are you doing,” over and over as you read. Is one chapter of that too much? You get to decide.

Seanan McGuire, In an Absent Dream. This is the most recent of Seanan’s portal fantasy novellas, which are my favorite thing she’s doing right now. This one stands quite well alone and is very distinctive in setting and character from the others. I was mostly okay with which things were summarized and which shown (an interesting calculus of novellas), until the ending, which wasn’t quite as satisfying because of that ratio. Still glad I read it.

John McPhee, Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. This is the book equivalent of sitting at John McPhee’s feet listening to him talk about his long and storied career and how it all has worked. I wouldn’t start here if you haven’t read McPhee before, I’d start with Annals of the Former World, because that is amazing. But if you already like McPhee this will probably be an interesting and fast read. (Note for people who are always on the lookout for writing books: this is about writing nonfiction, if that changes anything for you.)

Robert Muir-Wood, The Cure for Catastrophe: How We Can Stop Manufacturing Natural Disasters. Interesting stuff on structure and materials and their adaptations to place. I’d have liked more of the title and less of the background for the title, but I’m told there are storage and organization issues with having everything.

Dennis Romano, Markets and Marketplaces in Medieval Italy, c. 1100 to c. 1440. This goes into a lot of detail about the relationship of the sacred and secular in this context, and about how the different Italian city-states varied but had common elements in how they handled marketplace issues. One of the things that was interesting to me was how much focus there was on fraud–which makes sense, but…well, if you have friends and family who spend a lot of time on deregulation as a political hot button, direct them to the medieval Italians.

Rebecca Solnit, Call Them By Their True Names. This is a collection of Solnit’s recent essays on the contemporary scene. I’d already read several of them in their original magazine publications, but it was still an interesting book–and I basically always reach for Rebecca Solnit first whenever I get one of her books.

Vanessa Tait, The Looking Glass House. I didn’t see one of the marketing points of this book before I picked it up in a used bookstore–namely that Tait is the descendant of Alice Liddell of Alice in Wonderland fame. This is a novel about the Liddells’ governess. Basically everyone in it is unhappy and unpleasant, parents, children, governesses, random family friends, all of them. This is a “sucked to be them” book, and while it’s written reasonably well, all that did was make me keep reading until the end, with nothing but frustration and misery as far as the eye can see. Not recommended.

Sara Teasdale, Love Songs. Kindle. There are several things that Teasdale appears to think about love that make me want to rent her a cabin for a year so she can get some time to herself to think, and then introduce her to people who are kind and don’t play power games, because wow, kiddo, wow. But then there are the moments where she is wrapped up in natural beauty, and I’m here for that.

Breaking the Glass Slipper guest

Recently I was a guest on the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast. BtGS is a feminist SFF podcast that wanted to do more episodes on intersectional issues, so we talked about disability representation in SFF. You can give it a listen here!

(I will confess that I am terrible at listening to podcasts myself, but it can be so much fun to be on them–one gets into good conversations. So we’ll see if I can’t get better at this.)

Readers choose *two*!

Analog magazine runs a reader’s choice poll called AnLab every year. This year I had one story each place in the categories of Short Story and Novelette. You can see the full list here! Analog provides links to most of these stories (all the ones the authors consented to have on the internet), so you can read all sorts of my peers doing good things.

And! The novelette on the list was reprinted in Clarkesworld last month, but this is the first internet appearance of the short story! I hope you enjoy Finding Their Footing as much as the Analog readers did.

Books read, late January

Kate Atkinson, Transcription. A literary spy story, infiltrating the British fascists of 1940 and what has happened beyond that. I thought that Red Joan was better at some of the tropes that eventually came up as events unfolded in this book, but they’re actually both worth having.

Noel D. Broadbent, Lapps and Labyrinths: Saami Prehistory, Colonization, and Cultural Resistance. This is a lot of northern archaeology, which means that ski fragments and seal bones are discussed in great detail. That is in fact my jam. It may also be yours–and even if it isn’t, there aren’t loads of readily available sources on Saami culture before/during colonization, so if that’s an interest, it’s not going to be in the “yawn, another one of those” category.

Brendan Fletcher, Karl Kerschil, Becky Cloonan, Adam Archer, and Msassyk, Gotham Academy Second Semester Volume 1: Welcome Back. They’ve added to the title of this I guess? Presented it as a new run instead of just having, like, volume 4 of the previous? It doesn’t work at all as a place to start this series–if you’re interested in spoopy youngsters in the periphery of Bruce Wayne, go back to the beginning. The plot twists struck me as really obvious this time, but this may be a results of me not being a teenager and new to this.

Morgan Jerkins, This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America. The ending of this book really built to something strong and worth having. I was a little unsure of several of the chains of association earlier in the book, but I can’t honestly tell whether it jumps around a lot or whether there are implicit links that I’m missing because I am not, in fact, living at the intersection of Black and anything, and y’know, not everything has to be spelled out anyway, and not everything has to be aimed at me.

Pat Parker, The Complete Works of Pat Parker. If you’re looking for righteous wrath, Pat Parker brings it. She occasionally brings other emotions, but there is a lot of Black lesbian anger here, well grounded in the reality of Parker’s lived experience.

Ntozake Shange, Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo. Quite often when people describe non-Latin American works as magic realism, they are neglecting elements like the post-colonial/anti-colonial thread to magic realism. Shange’s story of three sisters exploring the arts, the world, and themselves is exactly the magic realism of the American South. Beautiful stuff here.

Django Wexler, Ship of Smoke and Steel. Discussed elsewhere.