I’ve been making a real effort to read more lately, as I’m watching less TV, so I have a bunch of books to report on.
Fans of my Rebels series might enjoy Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine. You might consider it steampunk, though if you’re being really pedantic and technical about it, it’s more clockpunk, as it takes place during the Regency era, before the Age of Steam really got going, and the alternate technology is clockwork automata, not steam engines. But it’s still a retro-futuristic thing with airships and adventure, with a plucky heroine breaking out of her defined societal role. A young woman who grew up on her family’s Mars plantation feels constrained when her mother thinks they need to move back to earth so she can be trained to be a proper lady. But after her father’s death, she learns of an evil scheme by her cousin to go to Mars and rob her brother of his inheritance, and the only option she seems to have is to disguise herself as a boy to join the crew of a faster ship heading to Mars so she can warn her brother. Those who are real nitpickers about science may have problems with this, as the technology and science are all based on beliefs at that time, which means we have people living easily on Mars, farming there, with a breathable atmosphere, and then there’s the fact that you can sail on sailing ships to Mars. But if that sort of thing doesn’t have you sputtering “that’s not the way it works!” and you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go with it, it’s a really fun adventure story.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman is classified as a children’s book (middle-grade, I believe), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A young runaway gets lost in the Maine woods and stumbles upon a remote house, where a strange old man gives him shelter, then declares that he’s an evil wizard, and the boy is his new apprentice. When the boy finds that he can’t seem to leave, he decides to take matters into his own hands and learn what he needs to figure out what’s going on and how to get his freedom — but the situation isn’t quite what he’s been told it is. I guess you could almost call it Stephen King-lite, with the strange, mysterious town in Maine and the dark forces surrounding it, but it’s not a really dark story. It’s whimsical and has a sweet heart.
I took a slight break from fantasy when I found a book by Julian Fellows, the writer of Downton Abbey, on the new books shelf at the library. Belgravia had no connections to Downton Abbey, but I felt like there were some parallels in story lines and character types. It starts with an incident at the infamous ball that happened on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, then picks up 25 years later with the consequences of what happened. Those consequences entangle a high-ranking noble family and a family of wealthy social climbers. As on Downton Abbey, we have an ordinary guy who finds himself abruptly moved up in society, scheming servants, and a very forward-thinking young noblewoman. The outcome was rather obvious to me from the start, but I think I would have been very dissatisfied if it hadn’t come out that way. I must say that he’s probably a better television writer than a novelist. The plot is fairly strong, but prose isn’t his strong suit. But if you’re missing Downton Abbey and want a bit more historical costume drama soap opera, this is a pretty quick read.
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman was recommended by a reader, and yes, it was just my cup of tea. A librarian working for the magical repository of all books gets assigned a new trainee and a strange mission to go to a steampunky alternate reality where vampires and werewolves exist and retrieve a version of the Grimm fairy tales that includes one particular story that doesn’t exist in other realities. But she’s not the only one after it. This has a taste of contemporary fantasy — in that the heroine seems rather contemporary, though we aren’t quite sure which reality she’s from — but she’s thrown into a steampunk kind of world that also has a lot of other fantasy elements. There are already two more with more on the way, and when I finish my current library haul, I’ll be devouring the rest. Thanks for the recommendation!
And finally, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi is a YA fantasy that doesn’t really read like YA, so don’t let the label stop you if you’re an adult. It’s set in a fantasy version of India and draws upon Indian mythology and folklore, but there are still elements that feel quite familiar from European folklore and fairy tales. A raja’s daughter whose birth horoscope seems ominous believes she’ll never marry because of it, but when she’s put in a situation where she has to choose a husband for diplomatic reasons, she’s unexpectedly whisked away by a mysterious man and taken to a magical realm. As she gradually learns what’s going on, she has to decide who she can trust. The imagery in this book is so dreamlike and beautiful, with some very poetic language. I kept wanting to write down quotes from it. It’s also very romantic, the kind of book you finish with a sigh.
I guess all this is what happens when you cut back on your TV viewing, which is probably good for me. I’m ahead for the year on my reading goals, and my writing output has also increased.