10 Fantastical Recent Reads of Mine

Posted 4th May 2021 by Siavahda in Blogathons, Top Ten Tuesdays / 2 Comments

TTT

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. Check out upcoming Top Ten themes on Jana’s blog!

Today’s prompt is simply: the last 10 books you read.

The Wyrd & Wonder spin on this is, obviously, to list your last 10 fantasy reads – which makes very little difference to me, since I barely read anything else! But it’s a good prompt to get me to write little mini reviews for my most recent reads, so here we go, in reverse order!

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
Representation: Bisexual MC, lesbian secondary character, poc secondary character
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 059311034X
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow has always been strange. Something happened to her and her two older sisters when they were children, something they can’t quite remember but that left each of them with an identical half-moon scar at the base of their throats.

Iris has spent most of her teenage years trying to avoid the weirdness that sticks to her like tar. But when her eldest sister, Grey, goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Iris learns just how weird her life can get: horned men start shadowing her, a corpse falls out of her sister’s ceiling, and ugly, impossible memories start to twist their way to the forefront of her mind.

As Iris retraces Grey’s last known footsteps and follows the increasingly bizarre trail of breadcrumbs she left behind, it becomes apparent that the only way to save her sister is to decipher the mystery of what happened to them as children.

The closer Iris gets to the truth, the closer she comes to understanding that the answer is dark and dangerous – and that Grey has been keeping a terrible secret from her for years.

House of Hollow comes very close to crossing the line from Fantasy into Horror, but I think it just about manages to stay on my side of the line. Iris is the youngest of three sisters, all of whom disappeared for a month while they were children – and when they came back, they were strange. Now, when Iris’ oldest sister Grey disappears, Iris and her other sister, Vivi, have to go digging into the past they don’t remember if they want to get their sister back.

Without question my favourite aspect of this book is the prose, which is just decadent. I highlighted so many sentences and passages, because they just read like beautiful poetry. Sutherland seems to delight in mixing the macabre and the stunning,

The Centaur's Wife by Amanda Leduc
Representation: Disabled MC, Lesbian PoV character, secondary F/F
Genres: Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 0735272859
Goodreads


Amanda Leduc's brilliant new novel, woven with fairy tales of her own devising and replete with both catastrophe and magic, is a vision of what happens when we ignore the natural world and the darker parts of our own natures.

Heather is sleeping peacefully after the birth of her twin daughters when the sound of the world ending jolts her awake. Stumbling outside with her babies and her new husband, Brendan, she finds that their city has been destroyed by falling meteors and that her little family are among only a few who survived.

But the mountain that looms over the city is still green--somehow it has been spared the destruction that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. Heather is one of the few who know the mountain, a place city-dwellers have always been forbidden to go. Her dad took her up the mountain when she was a child on a misguided quest to heal her legs, damaged at birth. The tragedy that resulted has shaped her life, bringing her both great sorrow and an undying connection to the deep magic of the mountain, made real by the beings she and her dad encountered that day: Estajfan, a centaur born of sorrow and of an ancient, impossible love, and his two siblings, marooned between the magical and the human world. Even as those in the city around her--led by Tasha, a charismatic doctor who fled to the city from the coast with her wife and other refugees--struggle to keep everyone alive, Heather constantly looks to the mountain, drawn by love, by fear, by the desire for rescue. She is torn in two by her awareness of what unleashed the meteor shower and what is coming for the few survivors, once the green and living earth makes a final reckoning of the usefulness of human life and finds it wanting.

At times devastating, but ultimately redemptive, Amanda Leduc's fable for our uncertain times reminds us that the most important things in life aren't things at all, but rather the people we want by our side at the end of the world.

This book…was a mistake. It’s grim and depressing as hell, and the weird, fantastical elements are just sort of…there. It starts with a cataclysm – cities destroyed by meteors – and then Nature decides humanity’s time is up and starts killing people. It’s very bitter, although the disability rep is great. The writing itself seemed good, but no, it’s just…so grim. Wish I’d skipped it!

The Memory of Souls (A Chorus of Dragons, #3) by Jenn Lyons
Representation: Bisexual MC, Genderqueer bisexual li, Bisexual li, Asexual MC, Asexual li
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Epic Fantasy
ISBN: 1250175577
Goodreads

The Memory of Souls is the third epic fantasy in Jenn Lyons’ Chorus of Dragons series.

THE LONGER HE LIVESTHE MORE DANGEROUS HE BECOMES

Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever.

To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vané to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vané will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers.

Worse, Kihrin must come to terms with the horrifying possibility that his connection to the king of demons, Vol Karoth, is growing steadily in strength.
How can he hope to save anyone when he might turn out to be the greatest threat of them all?

This is the third book in the Chorus of Dragons series, which I have mixed feelings about – I love how original and subversive it is, not to mention all the queerness, but I’m not in love with the pacing and writing style. (I don’t mean the narration with all the footnotes, I adore those. But it’s very action-y and tell-y, the writing almost blunt at times… Not my fave.) Book 2 was a massive improvement on book 1 for me, but Memory was a slog. Completely redeemed by its ending, though, which was…probably the best cliffhanger I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading this series to its end, if only to know if my OT3 actually manage to get together before the world ends!

Love Bites by Ry Herman
Representation: F/F
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
ISBN: 1529406307
Goodreads

Angela likes Chloe. Chloe likes Angela. It should be simple enough - there's just the small matter of Angela's aversion to sunlight. And crosses. And mirrors . . .

In 1998, Angela was a smart, gothy astronomy student ­- until her then-girlfriend accidentally turned her into a vampire. A year later, she divides her time between her post-graduate degree (working on it in a dark, basement room, and only at night) and controlling her need for human blood.

Then she meets lonely but wryly humorous slush-pile reader Chloe, who's battling demons of her own. Chloe's anxiety and depression can make it hard for her to leave the house, while memories of her ex haunt her at night.

As sparks fly and romance blooms, Angela and Chloe struggle to hide their difficulties from each other - but sometimes the only way out is to let someone else in.

I found this one really dreary. I loved the premise – a vampire astrophysicist and a depressed editor getting together and trying to figure out all their baggage – but it turned out to be very mundane. I empathised enormously with Chloe’s depression – been there, still taking the meds – but… I guess it felt like the story was stretched out a lot longer than it needed to be? Like a lot of it was padding, or uninteresting introspection, and I get that they’re both in not-great situations, but I don’t enjoy reading about misery upon misery upon misery, you know? It made a lot of great points about depression and abusive relationships, but as a story, it just didn’t work for me.

In the Eyes of Mr Fury by Philip Ridley
Representation: Gay MC, M/M or mlm, minor sapphic characters, minor trans character
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
ISBN: 1943910375
Goodreads

On the day Concord Webster turned eighteen, the Devil died. The Devil's real name was Judge Martin, but Concord's mother called him the Devil. She said he boiled babies for dinner and made lampshades out of human skin. So why did she, who hated him so venomously, have a key to his house?

The key will unlock more than just Judge's front door. It will also unlock a multitude of stories - where magic children talk to crows, men disappear in piles of leaves, and James Dean lookalikes kiss in dark alleys - and reveal a secret history that will change Concord's life forever.

Philip Ridley's second novel (following the sexually charged tour de force Crocodilia) was an instant cult classic when originally published in 1989. Now, for this new edition, Ridley has reimagined the story, expanding the original novel into the world's first LGBT magical realist epic. A vast, labyrinthine, hall-of-mirrors saga, its breathtaking imagery and stunning plot twists - covering over a hundred years - reveal Ridley to be one of the most distinctive and innovative voices in contemporary fiction.

'Philip Ridley's stories compel attention.' - The Times (London)

'Ridley is the master of modern myth.' - The Guardian

'Ridley is a visionary.' - Rolling Stone

There’s actually a story to how I came across this book – one of my work colleagues was talking about how it had been their first queer fantasy, that they’d read as a teen in the library, but they hadn’t seen a copy since. While they were mournfully explaining this to us, I was on my phone and found that it had a new edition and was in print again. So, obviously, I got them a signed copy because everyone deserves their first queer fantasy, okay? Okay.

It took me a while to get around to reading it myself, but I ended up loving it. I think it’s a bit more (heavy) magical realism than urban fantasy, with so many weird and interesting and intersecting backstories, and wonderful crows, and magic memory-movies. And it’s queer as hell. It’s very different from any book I’ve loved before, but it went straight onto my favourites shelf and I’m so glad my coworker told me about it!

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
Representation: Black li
Genres: Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 0765349159
Goodreads

Acclaimed by critics and readers on its first publication in 1987, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks is one of the novels that has defined modern urban fantasy.

Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But she's breaking up with her boyfriend, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk—and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.

By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaks is a fantasy novel that's as much about this world as about the other one. It's about real love and loyalty, about real music and musicians, about false glamour and true art. It will change the way you hear and see your own daily life.

This is another favourite of mine, the standalone recognised as the first Urban Fantasy novel, with the Sidhe going to war in Minneapolis and conscripting human musician Eddi to make the battles stick. It’s this really beautiful blend of vaguely-British Isles mythology and the modern (well, maybe not quite modern, it was published in 1987, but close enough!) music scene, and the prose! I mean, it’s Emma Bull, so obviously it’s flawless, but it still deserves saying that the entire book is just *chef’s kiss*

The Defiant Heir (Swords and Fire, #2) by Melissa Caruso
Representation: Bisexual main/secondary character, secondary F/F
Genres: Secondary World Fantasy
ISBN: 035651062X
Goodreads

Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

Gotta admit, this was a bit of a let-down after the first book, Tethered Mage. But equally, I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy it as much – on paper it should have been even more fun, with all kinds of new characters and places and magics introduced that should all have been exactly my jam. Maybe it was just bad timing on my part – maybe I needed to be in a different headspace for it – but I ended up having to force myself to finish. I do want to get to the final book in the trilogy, but it’s definitely dropped down a few places on my priority list.

Very glad I got to read The Obsidian Tower (set in the same world, centuries later) before this trilogy.

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin
Representation: minor sapphic character, minor F/F
Genres: Fantasy
ISBN: 0593085507
Goodreads

A sophisticated literary fairy tale for the twenty-first century, in which Cinderella, thirteen years after her marriage, is on the brink of leaving her supposedly perfect life behind.

Cinderella married the man of her dreams--the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, two children and thirteen and a half years later, things have gone badly wrong and her life is far from perfect. One night, fed up, she sneaks out of the palace to get help from the Witch who, for a price, offers love potions to disgruntled housewives. But as the old hag flings the last ingredients into the cauldron, Cinderella doesn't ask for a love spell to win back her Prince Charming.

Instead, she wants him dead.

Endlessly surprising, wildly inventive, and decidedly modern, The Charmed Wife weaves together time and place, fantasy and reality, to conjure a world unlike any other. Nothing in it is quite what it seems, and the twists and turns of its magical, dark, swiftly shifting paths take us deep into the heart of what makes us unique, of romance and marriage, and of the very nature of storytelling.

This absolutely delighted me??? I have no idea why I started reading it, it was probably a whim, or maybe someone I follow mentioned it – but regardless, I’m so happy I read it! It’s this surprisingly incredible telling of the Cinderella story after the happy ending, and in Grushin’s book, Cinderella isn’t, you know, a smart, wicked badass or anything. It’s not that kind of a story. Instead, she’s…well, the kindest word is probably naive. And maybe a little bit shallow, but I feel cruel saying that, because she does go above and beyond to try and fix her marriage – it’s just that she thinks it needs fixing in magical ways, because there’s a curse or something, rather than…she and her husband maybe not being all that compatible.

And then she wises up, in several senses of the word, and asks the witch at the crossroads for a spell to kill her husband.

It’s just – wry??? and sneaky??? There’s this whole thing about her mice companions, and how it never occurs to her that mice don’t live that long, and in fact the mice she lives with now are the great-great-great grandchildren of the original mice, and I promise you, the mice are having their own adventures. There are epics to be written about the mice. (AMAZON WARRIOR MICE, YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU.) It’s this bizarrely successful marriage of fairytale to cynicism? Sorta? I don’t even know, except that I loved it and recommend it to anyone who wants their happily-ever-afters injected with botox.

The Fifth Sacred Thing (Maya Greenwood, #1) by Starhawk
Representation: MCs of colour, queernorm world, bisexual MCs, open love/polyamory
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
ISBN: 0553373803
Goodreads

Imagine a world without poverty, hunger, or hatred, where a rich culture honors its diverse mix of races, religions, and heritages, and the Four Sacred Things that sustain all life - earth, air, fire, and water - are valued unconditionally. Now imagine the opposite: a nightmare world in which an authoritarian regime polices an apartheid state, access to food and water is restricted to those who obey the corrupt official religion, women are property of their husbands or the state, and children are bred for prostitution and war. The best and worst of our possible futures are poised to clash in twenty-first-century California, and the outcome rests on the wisdom and courage of one clan caught in the conflict.

Ninety-eight-year-old Maya has helped shape the ecumenical culture of the North by reviving and re-creating an earth-based spiritual tradition. Madrone, the granddaughter of Maya's longtime lovers, is a healer trying to thwart recurring epidemics that she suspects are biological warfare waged by the tyrannical South. Bird, Maya's grandson, returns from ten years in a Southern prison with warnings of impending invasion and an urgent request for help from the resistance in the hills.

When Madrone travels south to aid the rebels and search for a cure to the deadly viruses, she finds herself fighting for her own life alongside battle-weary guerrillas and beautiful pirates. Meanwhile, in the North debates rage about how to repel the invaders.

"All war is first waged in the imagination, first conducted to limit our dreams and visions," Maya says, and warns that by killing their enemies, they may themselves become transformed by violence and destroy all they have built. Bird champions her alternative vision and becomes a leader of the faction calling for nonviolent resistance. When he is captured and pressured to cooperate with the enemy, the fate of the North hangs in the balance.

Richly imagined and beautifully written, The Fifth Sacred Thing is a powerful novel of ideas and the future of human life itself .

This acclaimed, best-selling novel set a new standard for fiction of its genre, continues to be widely read, and is used in numerous college courses. Winner of the Lambda Award for lesbian and gay science fiction.

I’m working on a full review for this one, because this is…an incredible book that feels almost too big to talk about. In the most superficial way, it’s about a hard-won utopian City having to decide what to do when the extremely dystopian South declares war. It’s a book about witchcraft – in the Wiccan and neopagan sense – and spirituality, about different religions co-existing and fighting so hard to protect nature in the wake of an environmental collapse. It’s also about how religion can be twisted, about racial and gender politics and militaries and what happens when you put a price tag on water. The Fifth Sacred Thing is a dream of what a utopia might look like, and a manifesto of what it takes to build it, and an open question to the reader on how one can protect a utopia from those who wish it harm. It’s about violence and its costs, about monsters, about forgiveness, about humans.

It’s also a really great story of rebel groups and resistance and magic of all kinds, so, you know. You should definitely read it!

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost, #1) by C.L. Clark
Representation: Sapphic MC of colour, cast of colour (mostly), queernorm world, secondary F/F
Genres: High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
ISBN: 031654275X
Goodreads

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet's edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren't for sale.

This one really deserves a full review too, although I’m not sure I’m up to writing one. It’s just…brilliant. Utterly incredible. And I kind of want to laugh because when I was first approved for an ARC, I couldn’t get into it. But the problem must have been me, because the second time I tried I couldn’t put it down. There’s so much great stuff about colonialism and power dynamics and race, about found family versus blood family, about what makes you part of a country – and all of it’s been woven into a story that doesn’t lecture you about any of those things, because it doesn’t need to: you just…absorb it all, in between hunting for hidden magics and rebels and the political shenanigans of too many dickheads.

It is so good, is what I’m saying.

That’s my 10! Have you read any of these? Let me know!

2 responses to “10 Fantastical Recent Reads of Mine

  1. Great list! I’m SO excited for The Unbroken and I’m hoping I can pick it up soon, if only my brain would get in the high fantasy mood. I felt the same way about Love Bites! Considering how rom-comish the cover looks, I wasn’t expecting it to be as gloomy as it ultimately was. I’m sorry to hear that about The Centaur’s Wife! Anything with even the hint of centaurs is something I want to read, but I know myself well enough to know I’m not in the mood for anything glum this year.

    • I feel you, I bounced off The Unbroken the first time around, but when your head’s right for it I’m sure you’ll love it!

      Gloomy is exactly the right adjective for Love Bites. There’s a sequel out soon, I think, but I won’t be picking it up.

      IT IS A SAD FACT THAT THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH CENTAURS AND THEY DO NOT GET ENOUGH LOVE. But I would definitely warn you off this one if you’re looking for something happier. It is so, SO grim.

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