Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
A very unusual teen fantasy novel introduces Seraphina, 16 and very musical, who is assistant to the court music master in the kingdom of Goredd. Seraphina has an enormous secret; her late mother was a dragon and music instructor Orma is her uncle. Seraphina is also plagued by visions of other unusual people, and Orma trains her to organize them in a virtual garden. Dragons are emotionless and fierce, gifted in science and mathematics and can take the shape of a human to interact with them in Goredd, but half-dragons are against their code. Forty years ago, humans and dragons signed a peace treaty, but there now there is unrest. While helping the music master with a state funeral and preparing for the celebration of the treaty, Seraphina draws unwanted attention to herself. She gives harpsichord lessons to Princess Griselda, and is befriended by Griselda’s cousin Kiggs, who is trying to protect the royal family and keep the peace with the dragons. This book is hard to describe, but really caught and held my interest. A sequel, Shadow Scale, is to be published in March.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Auri is waiting for Kvothe, musician and university student, who is the narrator of Rothfuss’ acclaimed, lengthy fantasy novels, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. Auri’s book is a 176 page novella, has only one character and a simple plot, and yet the reader worries about her and rejoices in her small triumphs. Once a student at the University, which teaches magic and alchemy, she now lives beneath the school, in abandoned rooms and passages called the Underthing. Auri strives to set things to rights in the Underthing, and some of her alchemy skills come in handy, such as when she finds a leaky pipe. Auri regularly discovers new objects and passages, keeps the rooms tidy, and practices a placement art similar to feng shui, but her work is hampered by her obsessive compulsive disorder. Auri is searching for the right gift for Kvothe’s visit in a week’s time, and care for herself takes second place. Well worth reading, and re-reading; a lovely gift for Rothfuss’ many fans.
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.