I’m currently reading the second volume in a 12 part series, a Zodiac themed anthology produced by Aussie Speculative Fiction. Each month, a new anthology featuring that month’s zodiac sign will be released. This January-February, I’m reading Aquarius and because it’s also my own star sign. The Aquarius anthology features many unique interpretations of the water-carrier star sign by Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction writers. You can read more about the Aquarius volume here.
I have also contributed a short story to the Taurus Anthology which will be released in a few months. I also wrote a brief post on my inspiration and research behind the short story.
If you’re interested in reading the Aussie Speculative Fiction Zodiac Anthologies, you can find copies the Aquarius and Capricorn Anthologies through Books2Read with direct links to your preferred bookstore.
Recently, I read The Blue Rose by Australian author Kate Forsyth, a historical fiction novel that spans the French Revolution and the court of Imperial China. The heroine of The Blue Rose is Viviane de Faitaud, the intelligent daughter of the Marquis de Ravoisier. Raised knowing only her father’s displeasure and cruelty, Viviane leads a remarkable but secret life on her family estate, the Château de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany. When Viviane’s father falls into gambling debts, he marries a much younger woman and in celebration, the grounds of the Chateau are to be landscaped in the latest English style. David Stronach, a Welshman, arrives at the Chateaux and begins work on the garden immediately. Determined to make his name in the world, David continues to work at the Chateau despite growing unease between the social classes in France and delayed payments from the Marquis. Viviane befriends David and soon they fall in love, both of them trapped by claustrophobia in having their futures dependent on Viviane’s father, the Marquis. When the Marquis discovers their intentions to flee France together, David is chased from the Chateau grounds and Viviane forced to marry to a much older and wealthy duke to settle her father’s gambling debts. David escapes France as the revolution breaks and news reaches him that Viviane died at the guillotine with Queen Marie Antoinette. Heartbroken and determined to fulfil his promise to Vivane to find the blood red rose reported to grow in China, David joins a British expedition to the Imperial Chinese court to seek the elusive rose. The Blue Rose is a fabulous historical fiction weaving together a delightful romance, the emotion and chaos of the French Revolution and the social confines of the 17th century. Behind this are the clashing of cultures, French and British and the trading tactics as they make contact with one of the oldest societies in the world and the splendour of Imperial China.
I recently read The Copper Promise, the first novel in The Copper Cat Trilogy by UK author Jen Williams. The Copper Promise follows the unlikely group of adventurers, the female mercenary Wydrin of Crosshaven (the infamous Copper Cat), Sir Sebastian Carverson (an exiled knight) and Lord Frith (a crippled nobleman, dispossessed of his lands). Lord Frith survived near-fatal torture for a secret he did not know and now intent reclaiming his lands, he hires Wydrin and Sebastian to help him break into the ancient Citadel, a monument where the former mages secured treasures and imprisoned gods.Wydrin and Sebastian succeed in gaining access to the impenetrable Citadel, escorting Lord Frith into the centre of the labyrinthine structure. Once there, both Wydrin and Sebastian realise Lord Frith is more than he appears and so are his intentions. The three come under immediate attack from the only surviving god imprisoned by the mages. In a single moment that changes the outcome of all their lives, Sebastian is inevitably linked to the god and a deeper darkness while Frith absorbs the magic of the mages. Unwittingly, the three adventurers become responsible for releasing an ancient darkness on the land and awakening powers no one alive fully remembers. The Copper Promise is an exciting first instalment in a trilogy that holds much potential. Although it is affected by many flaws common in debut novels and first volumes with uncertainty surrounding plot and motivation, the characters are unique and well-drawn and the world-building is promising. I enjoyed The Copper Promise and look forward to more.
The City of Brass is the first installment in the debut fantasy series The Daevabad Trilogy by American author S. A. Chakraborty based on early Islamic folklore and legends. The City of Brass follows female protagonistNahri, a con-woman and thief who grew up an orphan on the Cairo streets during Ottoman-French occupation. Nahri has never believed in magic, thinking her unusually accurate abilities to sense illness and talent for languages an extension of her ability to deceive and read a mark. When Nahri attempts a risky healing, she uses a language remembered only from her childhood and accidentally summons Dara, a legendary but mysterious and dangerous warrior djin. In summoning Dara, Nahri also attracts the attention of the deadly ghouls controlled by the destructive ifrit. Fighting for their lives, Dara takes Nahri and flees across the vast expanse of desert, certain the ifrit search for her. In flight across the endless desert landscape, Dara tells Nahri of the legendary city of Daevabad, the tall gilded brass walls of the legendary djinn fortress. Nahri follows Dara, the haunting memories of ghouls and ifrit spurring her to trust Dara even though it has been centuries since he had been within Daevabad and the inconsistencies of his story worry Nahri at the reception they might receive. The City of Brass was a powerful fantasy debut with the unique Islamic folklore and legends providing an adventurous flair that can only become stronger with the continuing installments in the series.
I recently read Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, the seventh novel in the Dresden Files. Harry Dresden is Chicago private detective and professional wizard, struggling to make a living and control the powerful magic he wields. Dead Beat is set three days before Halloween when Märvra, vampire Queen of the Black Court and Harry’s enemy, blackmails him into finding an elusive text by necromancer Kemmler. Racing against time to find Kemmler’s text before the end of Halloween, Harry discovers Kemmler’s followers are intent on performing a rite on Halloween gifting god-like powers over life and death to the one conducting rite. The Dresden Files contain meticulous world-building with Machiavellian power struggles between fairy and vampire courts, the White Council of wizards and many unaffiliated supernatural beings.
I read The Paper Menagerie and other stories by American author Ken Liu after having the great pleasure to listen to several panel sessions and meet him at Continuum in Melbourne. I was unfamiliar with his writing until hearing an excerpt from the first story in The Paper Menagerie, “The bookmaking habits of select species”. I immediately loved the detailed and provoking fiction that combined philosophy with history to create an imagined future or alternate past that was immensely enjoyable to read. A unique and diverse collection of stories, The Paper Menagerie is a must-read for anyone interested in speculative fiction.
Godsgrave is the second volume in the adult dark fantasy The Nevernight Chronicles by Jay Kristoff. Continuing from the dramatic conclusion of Nevernight, Mia Corvere is now a Blade in the Red Church and with Mr Kindly and Eclipse, she becomes suspicious of a single patron repeatedly requesting her services. After the attacks against the Red Church, Mia’s suspicion grows and she forges unusual alliances to continue her revenge against the murder of her familia. When the unique opportunity presents itself for Mia to destroy both Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo in one strike, Mia takes the risk, selling herself into slavery to a gladiatorial collegium for the chance to stand victorious at the grand games in Godsgrave, destroy Duomo and Scaeva and avenge her familia.Godsgrave continues the dark humour, historical and political satire of Nevernight as the violence and intrigue increase. Highly recommended!
I recently had the pleasure to read Beautifulby Juliet Marillier in audiobook format. I thoroughly enjoy all of Marillier’s re-imaginings and re-telling of classic folktales and mythologies. Beautiful was certainly as detailed and well-written as previous novels I have read by Juliet Marillier. The inspiration for Beautiful was the Nordic fairy-tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon where a princess overcomes numerous tribulations to discover her true self. In Beautiful, the young princess is Hulde of the Hill-folk, viewed as trolls by the human populations, Hulde is completely innocent of the world beyond the Glass Mountain where the queen keeps her secluded and ignorant. Hulde’s only companion is a white bear named Rune who teaches her kindness and to trust her own judgement. Orchestrated by the queen, on Hulde sixteenth birthday, a curse will be fulfilled. When Hulde discovers the falsehood and betrayal, she prevents the curse from coming to fruition and begins her own quest to find her true self, to honour the memory of a father she never knew and to lead the Hill-folk with kindness, wisdom and justice.Beautiful was a story of wonder and wisdom, where beauty should be considered on many levels, different personalities and physical forms.
The YA supernatural mystery, Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, explores Australian history, indigenous legends and cultural understanding through the characters of three young Aboriginal women.Catching Teller Crow follows Beth Teller, a recently deceased Aboriginal girl who has remained as a ghost, trying to stop the grief consuming her father by urging him to continue his work as a detective. Only seen by her father, Beth convinces him to investigate a recent fire and subsequent murders in a small, rural town in the Australian outback.Early in the investigation into a fire and murder at a children’s home, Beth meets Isobel Catching, a young Aboriginal woman found wandering in the wilderness after the fire. But Catching can also see Beth and soon the mysterious connection between Catching and the children’s home take a dark twist as Catching recounts her strange tale of survival and escape from another dimension inhabited by beings from Australian legend. To endure and survive the strange events, Catching relies on Crow, a shape-shifting young Aboriginal woman. Through hearing Catching’s tale and solving the mystery at the heart of the town, Beth finds the closure she needs to move onto the spirit world and Beth’s father gains the strength he needs to continue living in a world without his daughter.Catching Teller Crow is a magnificent novel combining history, sorrow, hope and culture to craft a unique mystery and ghost story for modern Australia. Highly recommended!
Trail of Lightning, a supernatural fantasy by American author Rebecca Roanhorse was a finalist for the 2019 Nebula and Hugo Awards. Trail of Lightning is set in the near-future, a world where legendary Navajo heroes, gods and monsters have re-emerged after a devastating flood leaves only Dinétah, the former Navajo reservation was protected and kept above the water.Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter, her rare and dangerous clan powers allow brief preternatural strength, speed with an adrenaline boost in battle. Maggie was apprenticed to the legendary hero and immortal, Neizghání. Neizghání leaves Maggie after noticing her clan powers are more similar to the monsters than is comfortable for Maggie.A missing girl and monsters created by dark powers, lead Maggie to hunt for a Navajo practitioner of witchcraft. Accompanied by a still-apprenticed but powerful medicine man, Kai Arviso, Maggie follows trails of lighting, the physical markers left by gods like Coyote and the hero Neizghání, as they travel through Dinétah. The unraveling mysteries of who is making the monsters and why force Maggie and Kai to confront their past and future in order to survive the present.Trail of Lightning attracted some controversy over cultural appropriation of the Navajo practices (unlike her characters, Rebecca Roanhorse is not Navajo), but the timely reminders of Oil Wars and apocalyptic scenarios of climate-induced destruction are combined with the endurance of violence and trauma which make Trail of Lightning such a pertinent speculative fiction work.