- The Women in Black, Madeleine St John
- Spellbreaker, Charlie N. Holmberg
- A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik
- Devolution, Mel Brooks
- The Angel of the Crows, Katherine Addison
- American Demon, Kim Harrison
- Peace Talks, Jim Butcher
- Wolf’s Curse, Kelley Armstrong
Trying to keep my head down during the last few weeks of election furor, I have plowed through many books. Many! I reread the entire series of “Temeraire” novels by Naomi Novik, which are simply brilliant. I also consumed several more of the Jana DeLeon “Miss Fortune” series. The DeLeon books are all very similar, but just fun, like eating potato chips. I was also delighted to find a second book by KJ Charles, The Sugared Game, the second adventure of Will Darling and Kim Secretan. I also devoured Brothersong, which I think is the final novel in TJ Klune’s werewolf series. Maybe he’ll surprise me with another one.
Madeleine St John’s The Women in Black had caught my eye more than once, so I gave in to temptation (easy when the object is books) and I’m really glad I did. Set in post-WWII Australia, the women in question are employees of a large and fancy department store. Their lives and dreams and frustrations are rendered in small vignettes. With just a few words, St John managed to convey whole big swaths of these women’s lives. This slim book is charming, entertaining, and poignant. This would make a great Christmas present.
Elsie Camden is an unregistered spellbreaker who serves some invisible organization that communicates with her in notes, ordering her to destroy spells protecting this or that. It seems to Elsie that she is helping the ordinary people, and she’s proud she can be of service. Then she encounters Bacchus Kelsey, a magic user from the Barbados, and her certainty is shaken all to pieces. I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Spellbreaker is refreshingly original and Elsie is an engaging character, sympathetic but prickly.
Naomi Novik is always surprising. A Deadly Education is like The Hunger Games crossed with Hogwarts. I don’t want to spoil any of the many surprises in this book, but I will say that the first chapter was a challenge for me. After that, I was completely hooked. At Scholomance, the school for young magic users in the USA, the school itself is trying to kill you. Even a trip to take a shower is fraught with peril, and you don’t want to be the last kid in the cafeteria – ever. Or the first. Galadriel, the thorniest heroine ever, hates Orion Lake because he saves her life repeatedly . . . when she’s capable of defending herself just fine, thank you. Unfortunately, she can’t show her strength. But graduation is coming up, when the school’s creatures make one last effort to kill the graduating seniors . . .
Mel Brooks’ Devolution is just as savage but without the snarky fun. A model community deep in the woods is cut off from the world by a determined attack from creatures who turn out not to be only folklore. How these greenies react and adapt (or not) is the interesting issue in Devolution, which is shocking and suspenseful and rockets along like a roller coaster.
I was a huge fan of The Goblin Emperor, so I was tickled pink to see a new book by Katherine Addison. The Angel of the Crows. Just when you thought you couldn’t stand one more retelling of the Sherlock Holmes saga with or without Jack the Ripper, here is this marvelous book! In Victorian England where each public building has its own angel and werewolves and vampires are common sights, one angel lives on Baker Street with a supernaturally wounded doctor, and this is their adventure.
Kim Harrison is writing about the Hollows again. If you’ve missed Rachel Morgan, you can catch up on what’s happening in her checkered life in American Demon. Witch Rachel saved the world in the last Hollows novel, and now she’s paying the price. As always in Rachel’s life, something has gone a little bit wrong, and instead of reaping praise and gratitude, Rachel is the object of suspicion and even hatred everywhere she goes. And now there are zombies. And a new demon. With her usual grit and determination, Rachel has to save the world . . . again.
Peace Talks is another Harry Dresden novel. Jim Butcher has been writing about Harry for a long time now, and he still has adventures to relate. Harry is older and wiser and stronger and more cynical, but still beleaguered with problems on he can solve. Butcher has a giant imagination and a huge capacity for taking Harry to the limit of what one wizard can endure.
Kelley Armstrong continues to write very good books. Wolf’s Curse happens to be a YA novel about the twins born to her werewolf couple, Elena and Clayton. The camp they’re attending turns out to be the equivalent of a summer camp in a horror movie, but Kate and Logan are much more savvy than the usual 16-year-olds who get taken down by the killer. And much more interesting.
It may be the beginning of winter in the real world, but I feel like it’s spring in my life. The long election campaign is over, the winner decided, and now maybe we can begin to heal. I listened to the Biden/Harris speeches and felt like I’d started the process, and I hope other people do, too, no matter who they voted for. We are all Americans.
And though COVID is shaking our nation like a dog shakes a stuffed toy, maybe one of the vaccinations will be effective and approved. It won’t be the end of our virus troubles, but it might be the beginning of the end, or at least as close as we can get. We won’t ever be the same, I think, but we can maybe be almost as good?
So I feel like working again. It’s been like pulling teeth for the past few months. I know writers who have been brilliantly turning out work even more quickly, but I am not one of them. Now I feel the creation opening up inside me, and I also feel much more like myself. Work seems possible. Good work.
Optimism. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.