The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Princess Kelsea has been raised in isolation in the northern forest by her elderly guardians since her mother’s death eighteen years ago. The Queen’s Guards arrive on her 19th birthday to take her home to claim her throne, if they can keep her alive on the journey. A magical sapphire necklace she wears helps, but it doesn’t tell Kelsea who she can trust, or keep her from being injured. The nearby kingdom of Mortmesne is ruled by a sorceres, and she demands a tribute of Tearling citizens every month, or her army will invade the Tearling. Kelsea makes a bold decision to stop the tribute before she’s even crowned. This book is the first in a fantasy series set in the far future, and a movie is in development. I’m looking forward to reading Kelsea’s next adventure.
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Young Isabella, daughter of Sir Daniel Hendemore of Scirland, is fascinated by tiny winged creatures known as sparklings. They are considered insects, but she wonders if they might be related to dragons. Scirland is an alternate version of Victorian era England, a fantasy version with dragons. Also, the industrial revolution is slowed by a lack of sufficient iron deposits. When she’s 17, Isabella’s father very kindly has a matchmaker draw up a list of eligible young men who might share her scholarly interests, normally discouraged in women. Isabella is fortunate in her marriage, but longs to go on an expedition to study dragons, despite the danger and discomforts of a sea voyage to snowy Vystrana. She gets her wish, in order to take notes and make detailed drawings for the expedition; her drawings are scattered throughout the book. Things go badly from the beginning, with a mystery and threats. The book is narrated by an older Isabella, so we know that she makes it back to Scirland, and her adventures are continued in The Tropic of Serpents. This novel really kept my interest, and may appeal to readers of Mary Robinette Kowal, Caroline Stevermer, and Patricia Wrede.
Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
Jane and David Vincent have been travelling with Jane’s family but now set out on their own to visit Venice and Murano in an alternate version of the early 1800s where magic works. The Vincents work with light and sound to create moving scenes called glamurals. Their ship is attacked by pirates, and David is injured. They arrive on the island of Murano with no money, documents, or luggage, and David’s friend Lord Byron is away. A banker from the ship offers them rooms and arranges for a line of credit while they look for glassmakers who will work with them to create glass globes with magic. When it appears that the banker has swindled them, the Vincents work with a puppeteer and a convent to unmask the criminals, clear their names, and get their papers back. Magic, Lord Byron, and a gondola race are all included, along with some romance. Their previous adventures are related in Without a Summer.
Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce is a young adult fantasy writer known for her strong, usually female characters. This book follows after Street Magic, and is set before Melting Stones in the Circle Opens series. Briar Moss is a young plant mage, traveling with his mentor Rosethorn and his student Evvy, a stone mage. They are welcome in Gyongxe, which feels like a version of Tibet, where they meet the young god-king, and travel in the mountains. Rosethorn is invited to visit the Emperor Weishu in neighboring Yanjing, and tour his magnificent gardens. They quickly learn that he is cruel and greedy, and rescue one of his captives. Traveling with a caravan out of Yanjing, they learn that Gyongxe is to be attacked by Weishu’s armies, and feel compelled to help. Along the way, Evvy is captured and takes refuge with Luvo, a mountain deity. Rosethorn and Briar Moss are startled by small gods coming to life to protect their mountain home, and they learn how awful war can be, especially when they have to choose between using their powers to heal or helping win the battle. This is a darker book then many by the author, and I would suggest starting with Street Magic, or even earlier with the Magic Circle books.
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
After the volcano on Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted in 1815, the ash spread around the globe, blocking sunlight. England really didn’t have a summer in 1816, although the reason for the cold weather wasn’t widely known. During our pleasantly warm (and occasionally really hot) summer, I enjoy books set in cooler times and places. This is a fantasy novel, but may appeal to readers who are Anglophiles or enjoy witty Regency romances. Jane and her husband, Sir David Vincent, receive a commission to work their magic as glamourists in London, and create a glamural scene in Stratton House. They work with light and color, creating wondrous illusions that are all the rage in London. Jane’s younger sister, Melody, has also come to London, where Jane hopes she will find a suitable husband. There is considerable unrest in London; the prospect of crop failure due to the cold temperatures have caused increased unemployment and persecution of coldmongers, who magically help with refrigeration, but could not be responsible for the weather. The Vincents are surprised to encounter David’s estranged noble family, especially his powerful father. This is the third book about the Vincents, following the award-winning Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass. The Chicago author also narrates audiobooks and is a professional puppeteer.
I look forward to her next book with keen interest. More about the volcanic explosion and its effect on the weather can be found in William Klingaman’s new book, The Year Without Summer : 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
I had so much fun reading this book. It’s a fantasy novel written for teens, set in an alternate America called the United Isles, as all the states and provinces are surrounded by water. Joel and Melody, both 16, are students at Armedius Academy in New Britannia (Virginia). Joel is fascinated by Rithmatic lore, but when his father, a chalkmaker died from a springwork train accident, Joel lost his best chance to be chosen as a Rithmatist. Rithmatists are trained at several academies in drawing geometric diagrams and figures in chalk, and fight two-dimensional duels in chalk when their drawings come to life. Melody comes from a family of talented Rithmatists, but must spend summer school tracing geometric diagrams for Professor Fitch. Joel gets assigned as the Professor’s research assistant, and both teens get involved in an investigation when Rithmatic students are kidnapped off campus. Is there a rogue Rithmatist, or have wild chalklings escaped the plains of Nebrask where Rithmatic graduates spend several years dueling them and protecting the rest of the United Isles?
Read and find out. A sequel is planned, now that the author has finished completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga. This is a refreshing, unpredictable change of pace from doorstop size fantasy books, and I’m looking forward to reading the next adventure of the Rithmatists. Discover more on the author’s website.
Hunted by Kevin Hearne
I’m a series reader and over the years I’ve dropped more series than I’ve kept up with. They become too repetitive, or the characters simply never change and keep making bad decisions and never seem to learn, or sometimes the world conspires against the main character who is miserable but fighting on, or every book is a new villain that has to be different but somehow is just like all the ones before it.
I thought the Iron Druid Chronicles was headed that way. It was Atticus–the main character who’s a 2,000 year old Druid and the last of his kind–who wasn’t changing. He adapts to fit in with the culture he’s in but he’d done it too well and sounded like a kid who spent all his time on the internet and thought LOLcats was the height of human achievement. Internet references worked to show how Atticus keeps up with the times but eventually they distracted me from the story and had me hoping some thunder god would zap Atticus into silence for a while. But while he was making annoying jokes, Atticus was also angering various gods and now he’s dealing with the consequences so he’s let up on the dorky jokes. Some of the gods are so sick of him that they cut him off from routes that would let him travel between planes and around the Earth and they started hunting him. In the last book, he had to find a way to bind his apprentice Granuaile to the Earth to complete her training to become a Druid. Now she’s fully bound and they’re on the run.
Previous events triggered the beginning of Ragnarok and removed some of the safeguards that would have prevented it. As a Druid–a protector of the Earth–Atticus has to take action. Part of that is convincing gods from outside the Norse pantheon that Ragnarok is bad for them, too, and they should stop messing with a lowly Druid and work together to save the Earth. He has some successes and for once doesn’t seem to have done lasting harm. After Hunted, I’m back to looking forward to the next book and seeing how well Atticus deals with being known to so many powerful figures and what his role in the world will become.