My semi-regular “I’ve read a bunch of stuff. Here are the good bits”. In reverse chronological order:
Books you should read
These are books I’ve read and thought were excellent. If they sound at all like your thing I would strongly recommend checking them out.
The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher
T. Kingfisher is also known as Ursula Vernon, who wrote and drew Digger. If you haven’t read Digger you should read Digger.
But you should also read The Seventh Bride. It’s a really nice blending of classic fairy tales (I think it’s a blend of a few) and modern sensibilities, wrapped up in an interesting fantasy story.
My Real Children by Jo Walton
This book is both interesting and very emotionally powerful.
It’s an alternate history novel of sorts, but it presents two alternate histories. Our protagonist, Patricia Cowan, is in a nursing home suffering from dementia and is, as her carers put it, Very Confused. She can remember both of these histories, right back to the choice she made that divided them, but she’s not entirely sure which is real. It’s obvious that one of the histories she remembers is strictly better than the other, but unfortunately it’s not at all obvious which of the two that is.
I generally find loss of faculties stuff… hard to deal with (some 15-20 years after first reading it I’m still traumatised by Flowers for Algernon), and there are some bits of this book that were difficult for me in that regard, but it was mostly manageable.
Warning: The last 30 pages or so of this book had me sobbing like a baby, and they probably will for you too. Also the ending was 100% the best way it could possibly have ended but I still hate the author a little bit for it.
Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele
One of the few non-fiction books I’ve actually finished recently, and it’s definitely worth it. A book about stereotype threat from the man who discovered the concept (I actually had previously thought it had been discovered by a woman. Oops). Has a lot of interesting details that I’d previously had no idea about and some good new terminology for helping expressing some concepts I’d not previously had good words for. If you’re at all interested in this subject you should check it out.
Books you might want to read
These are books I’ve read and quite liked and if they’re the sort of thing you like you should probably check them out, but you don’t need to rush out and buy them right now or anything.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Plot concept: There are people who loop back on themselves in time. When they die they are reborn as young children with their adult memories.
I really like this trope in general, and normally when people write about this concept it tends to be only a handful of characters doing it, so it’s interesting to read a book where it’s much more common.
This book was good, but I wanted to enjoy it a lot more than I actually did. There were basically two things that caused me problems with it:
- I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a consistent semantics for the time travel in it. I don’t know why. It’s not actually very confusing, but somehow the way it was presented threw me.
- I had a major case of villain sympathy. I mean you could tell that the villain was the bad guy because he did Obvious Villain Things, and ultimately he did need to be stopped because what he was doing was destroying the world, but I pretty much felt that the reason he was destroying the world was mostly that the author decided it must be so. Put it this way: Were I one of these people, I’d be doing something a lot closer to what he does than what the protagonists do.
Those issues aside, I enjoyed it a fair bit. If you like this sort of concept it’s a good addition to the genre.
The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price
Gernsbackish universe, people from our own universe get thrown into it when the world is destroyed and discover they now have exciting new powers that they’re not really clear on how to control.
Hijinks tragedy ensues.
Not sure where to place this. I liked it, but I feel like I mostly liked it because it has a lot of tropes I enjoy. On the other hand it got really good reviews too so maybe it’s just actually good.
The Great Way trilogy by Harry Connolly
Harry Connolly previously wrote the twenty palaces wizard
cop criminal series. I liked it, and it definitely has some enthusiastic fans, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a lot of enthusiastic fans and was something of a commercial failure. This is what he did next. It’s a more classically high fantasy series about the fall of a great empire.
By which I mean it’s a zombie apocalypse series.
Oh, sure, there aren’t any actual zombies, but the structure of the series is very much that of a zombie apocalypse series and not of your classic high fantasy.
I enjoyed it a lot. I felt the ending was a bit rushed – not bad, it just felt like the series could have comfortably been four books instead of three. Recommended.
The details are very different, but this reminded me a lot of the Codex Alera books. If you liked those you should definitely read these.
The Pyramid Waltz and sequels by Barbara Ann Wright
Amazon recommendations are… frustrating. I read the first book of this series ages ago and enjoyed it and rated it as such. Amazon subsequently failed to inform me of the existence of any of the sequels. Fortunately I eventually found out myself.
It’s basically good high fantasy with good representation at the same time.
The Goblin Wood books and the Shield, Sword and Crown trilogy by Hilari Bell
Honestly basically everything Hilari Bell has written is in this category. Nothing she’s written is blow me away amazing, but everything she has written is solidly enjoyable fantasy with likeable characters and interesting plots. Basically if you’ve liked other stuff Hilari Bell has written you will like this series, and if you haven’t read other stuff Hilari Bell has written and you like fantasy then… I don’t know. Pick any of them really. The Goblin Wood books are probably a pretty good starting point though.
The Paper Magician series by Charlie N Holmberg
I like interesting magic systems and well thought out modernish worlds where magic has been properly integrated into them, so this series would have to be pretty bad for me not to like it.
And it’s not. It’s actually rather good. It very obviously fits a certain mould of young adult books, but it’s a good instance of that.
City of stairs by Robert Jackson Bennet
I’d previously read American Elsewhere by the same author, but I hadn’t actually made the connection. I’m glad I hadn’t because I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if I had (American Elsewhere was a concept which I thought had a lot of potential but didn’t really live up to it).
This is approximately a book about religion and colonialism. A generation ago a slave nation rose up, overthrew their oppressors, killed their gods (this is not a metaphor) and are in charge now. They’re honestly not dealing much better with power than they did when the shoe was on the other foot. The protagonist is a descendent of the man who was responsible for killing the gods, acting as a spy for her government, and she has to deal with finding out that maybe the gods aren’t quite as dead as might have been supposed.
Somewhere between spy thriller and high fantasy novel. A few rough edges but generally rather good.
Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan
Basically, Trudi Canavan has a new book. If you like Trudi Canavan you’ll like this one. I’m looking forward to the sequel.
Fool’s assassin by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb has a new Fitz book out! Yay!
Fitz continues to make bad life choices and fail to see the obvious when it’s in front of him. Seems to have swapped places as Robin Hobb’s chew toy with the Fool, but still manages to end the book with the traditional being dumped on from a great height.
I feel like we might have reached peak Fitz and the Fool by now (the latest series is even called “Fitz and the Fool” just to drive that home – I’m not sure she’s trying any more), but despite that it’s a good read and a nice addition to the continuity. I’ll certainly keep reading the series.
Books you could read
These are books that I’ve read and enjoyed but would only weakly recommend. A lot of them fall into the category of “not actually very good, but rather fun”. They’re pretty good – there’s certainly nothing wrong with them or they wouldn’t be on this list at all – but they didn’t blow me away. If they sound like your thing then maybe check out the kindle sample first (note: You can do this entirely through the web reader now. You need an Amazon account but that’s it).
The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey
This one actually is a zombie apocalypse novel. It’s got a somewhat unusual twist, but at this point every zombie apocalypse novel has a somewhat unusual twist. Pretty good though, and everything was tied up very neatly at the end.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
A rare non SF fiction entry. This is a story about someone who grew up in a bit of an unusual situation and as a result sometimes has to figure out quite how to do this being human thing. It’s also a story about animal welfare.
Some other reviews apparently found the narrator’s tone quite annoying, but I thought it worked well for the story. It is definitely on the preachy side though.
Afterparty by Daryl Gregory
A book about designer drugs and religious experiences. Interesting in that it’s a rare-ish entry into the “protagonist who is kinda an asshole seeks revenge on those who have wronged them” where the protagonist in question isn’t a straight white man (she’s a white lesbian). Her guardian angel (literally) is also kinda an asshole, but more of the self-righteous kind.
In a slightly hard to pin down way this feels a bit like Peter Watts lite in its handling of protagonists with weird brain things going on.
It’s pretty good. It’s borderline as to whether this should be in the previous category, but it failed to make quite enough of an impression – it took me several tries to remember enough to write about it.
Wilful Child by Steven Erikson
You know… I honestly don’t like star trek parodies. In general I’m not big on parody fiction (I really hated early Discworld when it was a paper thin parody of the genre, even though I love later Discworld).
But when I discover that an author I like mostly for his military high fantasy has done a 180 and written a star trek parody, I kinda had to check it out. I expected to check out the kindle sample, shrug, and move on, but I ended up buying and reading the whole thing.
It turns out to be basically a heavy handed critique of modern society wrapped up in a paper thin veneer of star trek parody. The protagonist can’t seem to decide whether he’s an being an asshole as a political point or whether he’s just an asshole.
But, you know, somehow I still liked it. It’s pretty well put together and it’s just so blatant that you can’t help but grudgingly like it.
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson
A girl raised by an… unconventional family goes to an academy to learn to to be a princess so she can fight witches. It turns out that they’re not too keen on her family either there.
A cute, enjoyable, light read.
Bound to the Abyss by James Vernon
Protagonist-man has a special power for summoning demons. The first demon he summons seems to fit more into the category of wise cracking talking animal side-kick than really evil. The second one is rather more evil but is generally persuaded to be on side.
The general religious sentiment of the world is still less than a fan of the whole summoning demons thing mind you. Also there’s a bit of a hint that this whole thing might be something of a ticket to destroying the world.
This and its sequel were quite fun, if somewhat cliched in places.