I enjoyed these three fantasy novellas, set in the World of the Five Gods. The first book in the loosely connected series is The Curse of Chalion, but the Penric novellas are a good place to start.
Lord Penric is the younger son of a minor noble, and is on the way to his betrothal to a cheesemaker’s daughter when he stops to help an elderly lady who’s fallen ill. She is a temple divine and when she dies, her demon unexpectedly transfers to Penric. Penric names the demon Desdemona, and her previous hosts, all female, tell him amazing stories. No one expects the demon to be allowed to stay with young, untrained Penric, except the reader. Penric has always wanted to go to university, and is happy to get the education he needs for his new station in life, and gradually learns to cope with the demon.
Penric and the Shaman
Several years later, Penric’s education is complete, and he is sent on a mission to help locate Inglis, a runaway shaman accused of murder. There are magical dogs, an avalanche, and adventures in the mountains and a small town. This is the shortest of the novellas. Penric is learning to use Desdemona’s powers when necessary, but there are consequences, so he must get creative.
In Penric’s Mission, Penric is an agent for the Duke of Adria. He is travelling by sea to Cedonia, home of an earlier host of Desdemona, to meet with a young general. Instead, Penric is imprisoned, and General Arisaydia is arrested and badly injured. Using Desdemona’s skills, Penric escapes, and finds that the general has been released to the care of his widowed sister, Nikys. Penric uses his healing skills, and the trio have a cross country adventure escaping their enemies, and Penric gets to battle another wizard. This story was great fun, and I liked the possibility of a future romance with Nikys. So far, Penric’s Mission is only available as an ebook.
Updraft by Fran Wilde
Kirit Densira lives in a remarkable world, high above the clouds, in towers made of living, growing bone. She is ready for her wing test, and hopes to be her mother’s apprentice. Ezarit is a trader who soars between towers. Kirit’s curiosity puts her in danger, and causes heavy penalties for her and her wing brother Nat. Kirit’s harsh singing voice may be surprisingly useful, and the Singers of the Spire want her to join them, but it’s hard to know who to trust. Full of adventure and intrigue, soaring heights and monsters in a suspenseful and compelling fantasy. I really enjoyed Kirit’s story, and look forward to reading about Nat in Cloudbound. I think fans of Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy, which begins with Dragonsong, would enjoy Updraft, which won the Andre Norton award.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Elderly Britons Axl and Beatrice are a devoted couple who decide to leave their cave dwelling to go on a journey to visit their son in another village. Why leave now? Beatrice is clearly upset at losing the privilege of a candle in their room at night, and would like advice for a pain in her side. We gradually learn that there is a mist of forgetfulness throughout the land. What secrets are Axl and Beatrice forgetting, and is there a valid reason for the mist? Axl begins to worry that Beatrice will stop loving him if she remembers their past, and they both wonder if their long-lost son will welcome their visit. Traveling slowly, they encounter wonders, terrors, and adventures, but the pacing never increases in this dreamlike fable for grown-ups, set in the fifth or sixth century, decades after the death of Arthur, a leader of the Britons. There is an uneasy peace between the Celtic Britons and the Saxon invaders. In a Saxon village, Axl and Beatrice hear of a boy stolen by ogres. Edwin is rescued by Wistan, and the four journey together for a while. Wistan, a Saxon warrior, is determined to find and slay the dragon Querig, but elderly knight Gawain claims that quest for himself. A leisurely read, this is a beautiful portrait of an elderly couple and their quest to remember their past, no matter what happens.
Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman
Isobel is turning 16 and has to decide if she wants to work for the boss or leave the Territory, a reimagined American West full of magic. She has grown up in a saloon, where the Devil lets you gamble at the tables, but is willing to make a bargain if desired. And the Devil always keeps his word and honors his bargains. Isobel decides to stay, but instead is sent out on the road on horseback with mentor Gabriel to learn the Territory and to become the Devil’s Left Hand, a job that doesn’t come with a manual. Isobel and Gabriel encounter talking animals, a traveling magician, shamans, terrifying supernatural winds, and small towns completely empty of people. Young as she is, Isobel needs to take responsibility and find out what is going on in the Territory. A sequel, The Cold Eye, is being published in January, and I’m intrigued to find out what Isobel will encounter next.
Into the Dim by Janet Taylor
After her mother’s funeral, teen Hope Walton reluctantly travels to Scotland to meet her aunt. She learns that her mother is alive, but is trapped in London in 1154. Homeschooled Hope can remember everything she reads, is claustrophobic, and has recurrent nightmares. Only the memory skills are helpful when she travels back in time to the coronation of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II with her cousin and her new friend Phoebe. Caught up in the drama and intrigue of London and the Court, Hope’s cousin gets arrested and Hope encounters Bran, a handsome teen she met in Scotland. Is Bran going to help Hope and Phoebe, or is he one of her family’s enemies? Fearful Hope is an unexpected heroine, but pretty good company in this first novel full of drama, adventure, fights, and some romance. The historical London setting is vividly drawn, and readers will look forward to Hope’s next time travel adventure. Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy is a good readalike.
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Teen Amani lives with her aunt, uncle, and numerous cousins, helping to run the family store in Dustwalk. Amani sneaks out one night to win money in a sharpshooting contest. The next day she hides fellow sharpshooter Jin from the Sultan’s army. A train ride to the capital city ends abruptly, sending Amani, who is disguised as a boy, and handsome Jin on the run in the desert, which is full of danger and adventure. Amani reluctantly gets involved in a rebellion against the sultan, and meets people with various magical powers, half human and half djinni. Amani finds that she can’t tell a lie, and has to make choices about where her loyalty lies. This is a fun fantasy adventure that mixes elements of westerns with Arabian Nights.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
I just loved this book, published in 2014, and am disappointed that there’s not a sequel yet. Fantasy, but no magic. Elves and goblins, but not like in Tolkien. Maia, 18, suddenly becomes emperor when his elvish father and half-brothers are killed in an airship accident. Raised in exile, with a cruel cousin appointed as his guardian after his mother’s death, Maia slowly finds his way through the maze of rituals, government officials, and his numerous staff in the capital, learning his duties and trying to decide who he can trust. Never alone, but often lonely, Maia is an appealing character, and the reader learns about the complex society through his eyes. There is a kidnapping, an attempted assassination, funerals for his family and the airship’s crew, visiting dignitaries, and the question of choosing his wife.