Moontangled, by Stephanie Burgis

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

This is the latest installment in the Harwood Spellbook series of romantic fantasies, shorter than novel length but longer than short stories. In each one the romance and the fantasy are very strongly entangled: while the plot can be framed as a standard romance plot such as “secret engagement” or “miscommunication about true intentions,” these elements are always inextricable from the fantasy worldbuilding–a reader who hated fantasy couldn’t just “skip that part,” nor could a reader who hated romance. Both parts are crucially built into the structure of the piece, nothing wasted or extraneous.

This is no exception. Julianna Banks, a brilliant magician, has been working tirelessly in her studies at Thornfell College of Magic, determined to prove her own worth and the worth of the new class of women magicians–not only for herself but for her secret fiancee, Caroline Fennell. Caroline’s letters, on the other hand, have been distant and strange. Caroline’s fortunes have changed, and she fears that their relationship must change with them. On the night of Thornfell’s ball, the two stumble into problems of their own making–and of magical origin–in the moonlit gardens. It takes not only Julianna’s magic but also Caroline’s diplomatic insight to extricate them from their troubles with gorgeous ball dresses more or less intact.

This was just the kind of fun I needed on the day I read it, and I think fans of the series will appreciate it. I have low tolerance for miscommunication plots, and I think in this case the shorter nature of the work helped a lot–I didn’t have to squirm through hundreds of pages of JUST SAY IT, they could get to the good honest trusting parts much sooner because it is SHORT, which made the entire enterprise easier on my nerves. Hooray.

Books read, early January

Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House. This was a period of reading when I needed to spend a lot of time on the couch, so books I could dive into and not come up for air until I was done were very welcome, and this was one of them. I am a gigantic sucker for college novels, and this is very much a college novel, but it’s a college novel that has considered how much privilege informs the American college experience, it’s a college novel that is not writing about Yale as though, tra la, really anybody could have a lovely time at Yale because people get to go there at random! There is no tra la. There is a certain knowing fondness for various Yale things, as with Pamela Dean writing about Carleton/Blackstock, but with an edge to it. The magic is dark but with hope baked in. I was so glad I had this to devour when I wanted to devour something all at once.

Stephanie Burgis, Renegade Magic and Stolen Magic. These two were a completely different kind of couch read, equally appreciated. They’re the end of the series that started with Kat, Incorrigible: Regency magic, but with an adolescent protagonist, so while there are society balls, trips to Bath, weddings, those things are all around the edges of the young protagonist’s real focus, which is magic, magic, and more magic. Kat continues to be spirited, determined, and a lot of fun.

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration. This is a graphic novel about what it says on the tin. For me the graphic novel aspect didn’t add much, but I’m not a very visual person; it was reasonably well done, and if you want to read about this topic without committing an entire month of your life to a volume about it, this is a reasonable place to start.

Liliana Colanzi, Our Dead World. Short stories of the fantastic in translation from a Bolivian writer, and the title gives you a hint on their level of good cheer and optimism. They’re beautiful, but I was glad it was not a longer volume for the sake of my mood.

Andrew S. Curran, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely. A brisk and interesting intellectual biography of Denis Diderot and his place in French philosophy and revolutionary thought. This is very accessible and goes into his relationships with other thinkers of his era in touching but not tedious detail. If you’re at all interested in Diderot or 18th century France, this is probably a good one for you.

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. This book did not come to play. The author states outright that he included the contemporary photographs of the famine victims as an indictment of the colonial governments that ruled them, and his analysis makes it clear that that indictment was justified. He did clear comparisons of how the British government in India handled famines, for example, compared to how the previous Mughal governments handled comparable famines (with data to prove that yes, they were comparable). He went through the hows and whys of the horrific choices that lead to so many deaths. It was a terrifying read, but it was extremely worthwhile, because even if you have consciously rejected the just universe hypothesis, it creeps into all sorts of assumptions, and having it thoroughly stomped is very useful.

Christopher Ingraham, If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie. Ingraham is mild-mannered and entertaining, and there are all sorts of things about Minnesota that he likes that I could squint at and say, oh, well sure, I guess we do that. There are other places where he utterly, utterly fails to distinguish between Minnesota and rural Minnesota, which is particularly frustrating when so do other coastal people, constantly, so hey, Christopher, thanks for telling them we don’t have varied food in Minnesota, that’s grand, I already wasn’t fighting that inaccurate stereotype. He also…is not going for depth here. This is a light book that does not particularly want to spend time on why his family has replicated a lot of cultural gender patterns, whether other family members might find that a bit less, golly gee whiz keen than he does. So it’s good for a smile, this book, but not a lot more.

Gwyneth Jones, The Buonaratti Quartet. A small volume of short alien stories. I incline to Jones’s more recent and earthly work, but it was thought-provoking about humans and relationships all the same.

T. Kingfisher, Minor Mage. I see why the author and her potential publishers disagreed about whether this was a middle-grade book or not, and I don’t think it’s the reason she stated in the notes, I think it’s that the protagonist ends up taking rather violent actions rather consistently and on-page in the ending. For most of the book, however, it could almost have been the kind of MG that is enjoyed by adults and kids alike; including the ending, I think it can still be enjoyed by a wide age range as long as you’re careful for kids who are okay with processing violence by their main characters. It’s funny and smart and has a clever protag and an armadillo. I’m glad I read it. I just also see where it fell between the cracks in traditional categories.

Sarah Kozloff, A Queen in Hiding. Discussed elsewhere.

Laurie Marks, Air Logic. Finally the conclusion to this amazing series, pulling together threads of timeline and culture and character and ways of thought. Definitely do not start here, definitely read the whole thing…but I do recommend reading the whole thing, it’s only four books, it’s complete and it’s out and it’s human and humane and complicated. I’m so glad I read this when I could have it all in a relatively short time frame. Yay this series. Yay.

Helen Mitsios, ed., Out of the Blue: New Short Fiction from Iceland. There were some very weird trends in this, lots of vacationing on beaches further south, lots of men being jerks to their partners or families…a kind of literary fiction I don’t read much of, but with an Icelandic angle. Interesting.

Erin Morgenstern, The Starless Sea. This was another college-ish literary fantasy novel, but it was completely different from Ninth House, so reading them in quick succession was actually fine for me. I felt like it was a little in love with its own imagery and could have been shorter, but on the other hand some of its imagery was pretty fun.

Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man. I really want to find my new mystery series. This one…had a bit too much of the “obsessed with the same things everyone else is obsessed with about that period” going on (WHY do so many mystery writers find opium addiction interesting, opium addiction is so fundamentally boring to me), but on the other hand the cultural interplay of the characters in Calcutta in 1919 is interesting, having Mukherjee’s deft hand on more than one perspective is interesting, so I will probably try another one and see if he lets up on the tropey elements or takes them somewhere fresh.

David Northrup, Africa’s Discovery of Europe. This was a later period than I hoped–it was post-Moorish Spain, for example. But it focused on African perspective of encounters with European cultures, African agency in assessing those cultures, and on documentation of those perspectives in the fifteenth to nineteenth century, which is a good counter-narrative to what historians mostly focus on.

Amanda Owen, A Year in the Life of the Yorkshire Shepherdess. This does what it says on the tin. Lots of sheep, lots of children. Less of me wanting to kick her husband in the shins than her previous volume, so there’s that going for it–there’s no particular need to read the previous one, either, so if you want to skip the bit where you want to kick her husband in the shins and read about a modern woman farming sheep and children in the north of England, just go on ahead with this one.

Rebecca Roanhorse, Race to the Sun. Discussed elsewhere.

Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, The Fall of the Kings. Reread. I just love this so much, all its scholarly research and magic and earnest and angry and disillusioned and hopeful people and…this has always been my favorite in this entire series and I said I was rereading it for Present Writers, but mostly I was rereading it because I like to. And also because I was seeing the Mad Duke as thwarted scientist and wanted to see that ramify, and it does.

Adam Shoalts, Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic. This guy canoed solo across the Canadian Arctic. If you’ve just said, “But–but the rivers don’t do that,” then congratulations, you win a geography prize. Much of Shoalts’s canoeing was upstream. This was not a sensible thing to do by any stretch, and for me it kept falling on the side of “but why, sir, why” instead of “okay this is just random enough to be cool,” but there were enough encounters with northern fauna to keep me going.

Sherwood Smith, Time of Daughters (Book I). This is set in the same world as Sherwood’s Inda, which is my favorite of her books, but further on in the timeline, when Inda’s legend has had a chance to settle into people’s minds and change how youth and their elders think about their world. Some of the impact of that is here–sometimes in ways that would have surprised Inda and his friends. This is a piece of a larger story, still centered on responsibility and leadership as the Inda books were.

Django Wexler, City of Stone and Silence. Discussed elsewhere.

Troy L. Wiggins, DaVaun Sanders, and Brandon O’Brien, eds., Fiyah Issue 13. Another solid issue, always a pleasure, but for me the first two stories, “All That the Storm Took” by Yah Yah Scholfield and “Roots on Ya” by LH Moore were the ones that really stuck with me in the best ways.

Letters from my absence

While I was out of town at ConFusion and surrounding fun, I had a story come out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies! Every Tiny Tooth and Claw (Or: Letters from the First Month of the New Directorate) is available for you to read. There’s also a podcast of it, and since it’s an epistolary story there’s not one but two readers.

I had so much fun writing this, and when I’ve read it at conventions it’s been very gratifying to hear people laugh and gasp and generally react, so I hope you enjoy it too.

A Queen in Hiding, by Sarah Kozloff

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

Okay, so here is what you need to know about whether this book will drive you up a tree: the princess is for no reason explained in the book called a princella instead. Just to be more fantasy-y. And the princella and her mother the queen are the only two people in the world who grow naturally blue hair as a mark of their royalty.

Now, if you got through that and thought, what the hell, I grew up on Mercedes Lackey’s white horseys and I’ve been sick, yeah, pretty much, let’s go with it, this is that book, this is exactly the book to read when you want to curl up on the couch with a fantasy adventure where all the queens for hundreds of years have had the same first initial and there are loads of specially special signs and animals talk to young girls in their heads but never about anything really upsetting and uncouth.

I want a book like that sometimes. I don’t usually want it twice, and I never read through it telling myself it’s perfect. But there are sea battles, there are thrilling escapes, there are wicked schemes, there are loyal retainers, and if you want a one of those, it sure is a one of those. By cracky it sure is. (The duke and duchess’s kids are duchettes. I. I just. Duchettes, they are duchettes. Sure why not.) The ending has a twist that is not really supported by much of anything except the need to proceed into the next three books, all of which are coming out this year. And the more I thought about it after…well, don’t think about it after, is my advice.

Once I was away from the adventure of it, one of the fascinating things about this book is how its surface politics and its deep politics contradict each other. One of the things that the villains are angry with the good nice queen about is her support of equity, wanting workers to get paid well and not exploited! Buuuuut when you look at how the actual farmers are treated by the book, farming is treated as stupid and brainless at every turn, completely unskilled. Spending her entire childhood with farmers gives the princella zero insight into the skills necessary for farming even though she can speak to animals, because animal husbandry apparently takes no skill at all. (Spoiler alert: this is wrong.) The very spirits of the world are constantly demonstrating how special the royals are compared to the common folk, and given an entire childhood to learn about the ways of the common folk, mainly what the princella seems to learn is wow, these people sure are dumb and boring. So what we’re getting here is noblesse oblige, not equity.

It does not get better from there. Maybe the sequels will. Or not; they’re already in production, so there’s no chance for Kozloff to take a breath and learn. It’s all coming on very, very quickly for the princella and her…I can’t really say friends, because she spends her childhood with one best friend who never gets a personality. I can’t say allies. Subjects, though. It’s all coming on very, very quickly for the princella and her subjects, and if that’s the kind of fun you want, here it is.

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review copy provided by the publisher.

If you’ve been following the new releases from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint of kids’ fantasies, I think you’ll be pleased with Rebecca Roanhorse’s addition to the line, a tale of modern Navajo (DinĂ©) kids fighting exploitative monsters on behalf of the world. If you’ve been reading Rebecca Roanhorse’s science fiction fantasy thrillers set in a ravaged American Southwest, I think it’ll be exciting to see her do a kids’ take on the same region and legends. If you haven’t been reading either–welcome, you’ve got a lot of fun stuff ahead of you.

And this is one.

Nizhoni Begay has never quite figured out how she’s going to shine in the world, but she’s sure there’s going to be something. She’s in the midst of crossing basketball and internet stardom off her list, but surely something else will come along where she can dazzle. It turns out there is! And it is monsters! Or the hunting of monsters! So that’s…well, it’s a lot, honestly. It is a whole book worth and possibly then some. Nizhoni’s little brother and best friend have special gifts of their own, not just along for the ride, and so do some unexpected other cast members, sometimes in disguise.

So this is a heck of a quest. Trains and giant birds and personal growth and magical arrows and things that you would want on a quest! It is fun and it has brave kid protagonists and they eat Cheetos and fight baddies and basically I think you will like it and also some kids you know might like it! Okay? Okay!

Present Writers: Ellen Kushner

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, Pamela Dean,Gwyneth Jones , Caroline Stevermer, Patricia C. Wrede,Lois McMaster Bujold, Nancy Kress,Diane Duane, Candas Jane Dorsey, Greer Gilman, Robin McKinley, and Laurie Marks.

The first several times I mentioned a book by Ellen Kushner, my mother would ask, is it that Ellen Kushner? It is, it is that Ellen Kushner–because my mother listened to NPR’s Sound and Spirit, and that was how she knew Ellen’s name.

But for me, Ellen Kushner meant Riverside, and still does. She’s written other things–Thomas the Rhymer, notably, although there have been others–but her masterwork in fantasy is the series of stories clustered around Riverside, starting with Swordspoint and blossoming into more, The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings and eventually the Tremontaine serial.

Though these settings have been shared with other writers, starting with her wife, writer Delia Sherman and going on to a bevy of other talents through the serial, a reread of Swordspoint makes it clear how many of the ideas were layered in from the very beginning. Other talents have brought their own strengths and richness to the stories–but only because Kushner built the space for them into it in the first place. Some of the references are tiny, astonishing in retrospect. Some anticipate current trends by decades. It is a marvel of concise implication, and it isn’t even my favorite of her works. (That would be The Fall of the Kings.) I think this is actually a case where taking up any thread will give you an edge of the tapestry, and I definitely recommend that you do so.

Every time certain other Kushners are referred to by their last name alone, I think, “WHAT? She would neve–oh, that guy,” and remain staunch in my conviction that if they don’t mean Ellen Kushner, they really should specify. Because we all know which is the original.

This couch still open?

This morning you can read my latest essay in Uncanny, Save Me a Seat on the Couch: Spoiler Culture, Inclusion, and Disability. It’s about, among other things, not getting to see the new Star Wars movie yet.

I had to write it before other people could see The Rise of Skywalker, before I had any spoilers, and I knew it would look different once that was out in the world. It does. Welp.

Many of the earliest spoilers I heard were on the way to get my emergency appendectomy. I don’t remember those very well. I just asked Mark to talk to me about the movie he’d gone to see because it was better to have some kind of talk than no kind of talk, driving through the central Michigan night, and that was one where I could set him going and not be expected to have a lot of input, which is it turns out not my strong suit with appendicitis.

The world is full of all sorts of things we don’t expect, and less full of my appendix and Rose Tico than I would have wanted, is what I’m saying.

Favorite short fiction of 2019

These are not sorted by anything but authorial last name. There are novellas, there are flash pieces. If you’re wondering why there’s a slight difference in formatting, the answer is that the ones I read early last year got formatted slightly differently, and I am too exhausted in the aftermath of my appendectomy + shingles to reformat everything to match each other, so as long as the link works I figured we could cope. I did try to find the places where autodefect had changed people’s names to adjectives or other charming alterations. Onward! Enjoy short fiction! I have already started compiling my 2020 list….

Morgan Al-Moor, The Beast Weeps With One Eye (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Elizabeth Bear, Deriving Life (Tor.com)

Elizabeth Bear, Erase, Erase, Erase (F&SF)

Elizabeth Bear, A Time To Reap (Uncanny)

M. E. Bronstein, Elegy of a Lanthornist (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Octavia Cade, The Feather Wall (Reckoning)

Chen Qiufan, Coming of the Light (Broken Stars)

John Chu, Beyond the El (Tor.com)

John Chu, Probabilitea (Uncanny)

Deborah Coates, Girls Who Never Stood a Chance (F&SF)

Tina Connolly, A Sharp Breath of Birds (Uncanny)

Nicky Drayden, The Rat King of Spanish Harlem (Fiyah Issue 9)

Meg Elison, Hey Alexa (Do Not Go Quietly)

Ruthanna Emrys, Cassandra Draws the Four of Cups (Strange Horizons)

Theodora Goss, The Cinder Girl Burns Brightly (Uncanny)

A. T. Greenblatt, Give the Family my Love (Clarkesworld)

Gregory Neil Harris, “The Midnight Host” (Fiyah Issue #12)

Alix E. Harrow, Do Not Look Back, My Lion (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Amanda Hollander, Madness Afoot (F&SF)

Osahon Ize-Iyamu, More Sea Than Tar (Reckoning)

Rachael K. Jones, Oil Under Her Tongue (Do Not Go Quietly)

Cassandra Khaw, What We Have Chosen to Love (Do Not Go Quietly)

Jonathan Kincaid, The Ishologu (Fiyah Issue 9)

Carrie Laben, Postcards from Natalie (The Dark)

Jon Mayo, A House With a Home (Anathema)

Jo Miles, Your Guide to the Ever-Shrinking Solitude on Planet Earth (Nature)

Mimi Mondal, His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light (Tor.com)

Ada Nnadi, Tiny Bravery (Omenana)

Karen Osborne, The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power (Uncanny)

Charles Payseur, Undercurrents (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Aimee Picchi, Search History for Elspeth Adair, Age 11 (Daily Science Fiction)

Rivqa Rafael, Whom My Soul Loves (Strange Horizons)

Jenn Reese, A Mindreader’s Guide to Surviving Your First Year at the All-Girls Superhero Academy (Uncanny)

Karlo Yeager Rodriguez, This Is Not My Adventure (Uncanny)

Merc Fenn Wolfmoor writing as A. Merc Rustad, With Teeth Unmake the Sun (Lightspeed)

Nibedita Sen, Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island (Nightmare)

D. A. Xiaolin Spires, Nutrition Facts (Uncanny)

Rachel Swirsky & P.H. Lee, Compassionate Simulation (Uncanny)

Lavie Tidhar, Venus in Bloom (Clarkesworld)

Eugenia Triantafyllou, We Are Here to Be Held (Strange Horizons)

Greg van Eekhout, Big Box (Uncanny)

Nghi Vo, Boiled Bones and Black Eggs (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Ginger Weil, The Day Our Ships Came In (Daily SF)

David Wellington, “Mummy Fever” (Spirits Unwrapped)

Kathryn Weaver, Darling (Metaphorosis)

John Wiswell, The Lie Misses You (Cast of Wonders)

John Wiswell, The Tentacle and You (Nature Futures)

Fran Wilde, A Catalog of Storms (Uncanny)

Fran Wilde, The Unseen (Fireside)

Xia Jia, Goodnight Melancholy (Broken Stars)

Caroline Yoachim, Just Coffee, Every Morning (Daily Science Fiction)

Caroline Yoachim, A Wedding Gown of Autumn Leaves (Daily Science Fiction)

City of Stone and Silence, by Django Wexler

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also Django and I have taught workshops together and generally hung out at cons etc. I have his and his wife’s Christmas card right here.

This is the sequel to Ship of Smoke and Steel, and while I think it would stand alone fairly well practically, a lot of what’s missing here that was there in the previous volume is…the monsters and the magic. A lot of those things are in this book by implication, brought in by their more extensive presence in the previous book, so this one can focus more on character relationships and further development of the worldbuilding.

I would hope it would go without saying that this is no bad thing? But what it is, to my way of thinking, is a reason to read the first book first, to not attempt to pick up mid-series and hope to have the relationships and stakes handed to you on the fly, when the first book actually takes the time to lay them out for you and give you that arc.

Some of the late-book twist is…a known trope, which is not inappropriately deployed here, which remains nevertheless not my favorite trope, but I know some people love it. It’s a genre-crossing fave for a great many people, and I don’t want to be too spoilerific about it, but if there’s a particular SF/fantasy bender that bugs you more than spoilers bug you, message me and I’ll talk about it. I don’t think Django does it badly, I hasten to add, it’s just a thing that doesn’t excite me nearly as much as the character relationships do. I’m really glad that this is a book with the strong motivations it has, the focus on how and why these people care about each other turned up to basically eleven on every page. That’s worth far more to me than more giant crab fights. Even if I missed the giant crab fights a little.

Books read, late December

Eleanor Arnason, Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens. Kindle. The artist aliens worked better for me than some of the others. This feels to me like the sort of science fiction about gender that works better as a stepping stone than as an edifice–but I’d rather that we think of a lot more things that way, that we value where it gets us than try to treat it as eternal. And I do like the ongoing attempt at alien perspective here.

Janice Boddy, Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men, and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan. This is an ongoing anthropological study of the social forms and services of possession in a particular Sudanese village. The author goes into some detail on genital mutilation practice and how it relates, so that’s a hard chapter to read, but necessary for context, and the rest of how religion interrelates with both local and nonlocal culture is fascinating here.

Stephanie Burgis, The Princess Who Flew With Dragons. The last in its trilogy, young philosophers of multiple species arguing about power in ways that should be accessible to 10-year-olds, while running around caverns and soaring through the skies. Great fun, just what I needed, hurrah.

Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer, eds., Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries. This is a very unwieldy physical object, because its conceit is that it has the original poem, then three translations, all side by side, so it is basically double-wide, one two spine three four. And then there is commentary after. The editors have gone to some trouble to get three different translations, rather than just three translators of similar ideas, demographics, time frames; the poems are from all different languages, so the commentary is from different people, and if one set of commentary makes you hrmmm skeptically (probably at least one will), there will be another set for the next poem. I love this sort of thing, and I love this thing, but you definitely want to read it at home on a dry surface, not on the bus or in the bath or on a boat or with a goat or…yeah. It’s a very cool weird thing to do.

Terrell F. Dixon, ed., City Wilds: Essays and Stories About Urban Nature. This is an extremely mixed bag, not just in format but in content. I sometimes marvel at what kind of editor wants bell hooks and someone incredibly sexist in the same volume. Why? But editors are mysterious, and there were some lovely passages about different kinds of small nature particularly, tiny animals neatly observed, very personal.

Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint. Reread. I think the thing that hit me very hard on this reread was Alec as stifled scientist. How that is very clearly in the text and almost all of it offstage–and the entire Mad Duke persona proceeds thereby. He has been thwarted in his pursuit of knowledge, all his misbehavior, everything, the entire Tremontaine saga comes from the powers that be taking scientists and grinding them under their heels–almost completely offstage. This was not the first I read of its series, so I didn’t come to it with that perspective initially, and it hit me like a ton of bricks this time. Dramatic and picturesque sad boys are much more effective on me when they’re for science.

Rose Macaulay, The Making of a Bigot. Kindle. Yet another example of Rose Macaulay not doing the same thing everyone else is doing. This is a book about an earnest young man who can honestly see the good points in everyone’s point of view and how he is closed into not doing that. It is, like many of her other works, a quite funny tragedy. Like several others, it makes me want to introduce her to my friends and protect her rather fiercely from the world she lived in. (We’re just over the ridge, Rose, you can almost make it….) Her mimetic universe is like watching someone die of an infected cut knowing that there’s a usefully moldy sandwich in the next room. Lordy. I will flag that I am removed enough from her context that I cannot entirely tell what is meant by the very brief sections of interracial relation, whether the characters are meant to be satirized for being patronizing or for trying to have friends of different races at all; if the latter, ew, Rose, cut it out, and this ambiguity may not be worth sitting through for you depending on your own context.

Laurie Marks, Water Logic. The elements flow on, and I have gotten as far as water, which is as nonlinear as one might expect. I knew that I didn’t know where this one was going, and I was satisfied with that. I feel very restrained that I didn’t dive on air the minute this one was done. Soon.

Hilary McKay, The Time of Green Magic. I am startled to say that I really like Hilary McKay’s mimetic work better. This was fine, even moderately entertaining, but the fantastical element took a very clear backseat to the mimetic elements and yet stood in for a lot of the McKay wry humor, in my estimation. And I would like both please. Or if not both, I would keep the humor; I can write fantasy myself, and read it lots of places. Ah well.

Lydia Millet, The Fires Beneath the Sea. I am not entirely convinced that Millet has read any middle-grade other than Madeleine L’Engle before she wrote this. No, that’s not fair, there’s probably Susan Cooper or somebody for the bad prophetic poem element. I hasten to add that this did not make for a bad reading experience in the slightest, that “it is 2010 and I want another Madeleine L’Engle novel, this time with environmental themes, so I guess I’ll have to write one myself” worked out reasonably well for me in this case. Better, in fact, than you’d predict. Even with the extremely jarring otter in the first chapter (look, otters were my dad’s thing, it was…a lot for me). It’s just…mostly you expect a professionally published novel not to be quite so much I Read Madeleine And Here’s What I Learned, and yet here we are, and I’m good with it.

Lina Rather, Sisters of the Vast Black. Nuns in a living spaceship–the spaceship reminded me a bit of Nicky Drayden’s in Escaping Exodus but had to have been a matter of convergent ideas–and dealing with personal faith, imperialism, and science. This was right up my alley. Novella, so it won’t take you too long.

Elif Shafak, The Architect’s Apprentice. This is a lovely historical Turkish novel about architecture and elephants and love and politics. I will be interested in reading more by Shafak, who’s new to me but not to the literary world–I love having back catalog to explore. Caveat: while the Romany people are treated generally positively, I don’t know how culturally accurate the portrayal is of Turkish Romany of the period, honestly do not know as this is not my field of expertise. But they’re not the main focus of the book, and in the rest there is some interesting borderline fabulism and a lot of historical flutter, which I enjoy.