Tag: Erin Morgenstern

10 Years of Required Reading: Best Fantasy

Fantasy is easily one of the largest categories on my site, with over 125 posts. So when it came time to make a list of some of my favourite books from the past decade, it’s no surprise that there were a lot! Here are five of the best. In the interest of avoiding duplication, I didn’t include anything that made the Best Fiction list from earlier this week, or that will be on tomorrow’s Best YA list.

Certain Dark Things

Cover image for Certain Dark Things by Silvia Morena-Garcia

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

ISBN 9781250099082

Domingo is a street kid who scrapes by as a junk collector on the streets of Mexico City, one of the few vampire-free zones in a world that learned in 1967 that vampires are all too real. Domingo is fascinated by the pop-culture lore of these creatures, but he has never seen one until Atl drops into his life. The scion of a powerful northern narco-clan, Atl is on the run after a disastrous clash with a rival clan. Sneaking into Mexico City is risky, but she needs to buy the papers that will allow her to escape to South America. Atl wants to get in and get out quickly and quietly, but she needs a source of blood that will not draw suspicion or attention. Unfortunately, her rivals are much less discreet, and soon the human gangs and cops of Mexico City become aware that vampires have invaded their territory. Silvia Moreno-Garcia pulls together a diverse variety of vampire lore that showcases a deep love of the genre, and is able to incorporate many different traditions. Originally published in 2016, Certain Dark Things briefly went out of print, but it is now available again in paperback!

The City of Brass

Cover image for City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

by S.A. Chakraborty

ISBN 9780062678102

Despite her abilities as healer, plying her con on the streets of French-occupied Cairo, Nahri has never really believed in magic. But when she stages an exorcism for a disturbed child, she accidentally summons a djinn who claims that she is that last descendant of the Nahids, the former rulers of the hidden djinn city of Daevabad. With murderous ifrits close on their heels, Dara vows to return Nahri to the home of her ancestors. But far from offering safety, Daevabad is a nest of politics that put the streets of Cairo to shame. While Nahri is a canny operator, she is naïve to the rules and traditions of her ancestors. The stand out feature of City of Brass is the complex dynamic S.A. Chakraborty has created between the different magical beings of this world, and even within the ranks and classes of the djinn themselves. In particular, the shafit—part human djinn—are an underclass poised on the edge of revolt. Happily this trilogy is now complete, plus a book of short stories that came out this fall, so you won’t have to wait impatiently for the sequels!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Cover image for The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

ISBN 9780062280220

A man returns to Sussex for a family funeral, but instead of attending the reception he finds himself exploring the scenes of his childhood. He is drawn down the old flint lane to the Hempstock farm, a property and a family so old they are listed in the Domesday Book. Sitting by the duck pond, he remembers his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock, who called the pond her ocean. But he also suddenly remembers other darker, more impossible things, things that cannot possibly be true. When he was seven years old, the suicide of a boarder at the edge of this ancient property set off a chain of supernatural events, unleashing a malevolent force convinced of its own beneficence. Magic is rife in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but explanations are sparse and, for me at least, would only spoil the sense that children know but adults have forgotten. This novel is for those adults who do still want to read about daft things like “Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies.” If you were ever a bookish child, and if you’re an adult who still loves tales of unbelievable magic, you don’t want to hear any more about this book. You want to go read it.

Sorcerer to the Crown

Cover image for Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

by Zen Cho

ISBN 9780425283370

Following the death of his guardian, Sir Stephen Wythe, Zacharias Wythe finds himself Sorcerer to the Crown, and head of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, the chief magical body of England. It was Sir Stephen’s dearest wish that Zacharias succeed him, but that does not stop rumours from circulating that Zacharias murdered his benefactor in order to seize the Staff. Worse, sorcerers disgruntled by Zacharias’ sudden rise to power have chosen to blame the ascent of a black orphan to the nation’s highest magical office for Britain’s longstanding decrease in magical atmosphere. Hoping to uncover the reason for the ebb of magic, Zacharias travels to the British border with Faery. Along the way he acquires a traveling companion, one Miss Prunella Gentleman, the mixed-race daughter of a deceased English magician who brought her to England from India shortly before his untimely demise. Prunella causes Zacharias to question the Society’s longstanding prohibition on women performing magic, for this untrained young woman may be the most powerful magician he has ever seen, and hold the key to unlocking the flow of magic into England. Since first reading Sorcerer to the Crown in 2016, I’ve been constantly recommending it to fans of Jane Austen and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as well as following Cho’s other works.

The Starless Sea

Cover image for The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

by Erin Morgenstern

ISBN 978038554123

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student who studies video games, but has a passion for story and narrative in all its forms. Visiting the nearly-deserted library between terms, Zachary stumbles across an old book of short stories, an improperly catalogued and mysterious donation to the university’s collection. But what is truly remarkable about this book is that Zachary is in it; the third story perfectly describes a real incident from his childhood, one that he never dared to speak of, let alone commit to paper. Yet here it is, recorded in a book whose publication clearly predates his birth. And if his real story is recorded in Sweet Sorrows, is he to assume that the other stories, of pirates and bees, guardians and rabbits, owls and acolytes are true as well? And what then was recorded on the missing pages that have been torn from the book?  The Starless Sea is a story that is less about individual people than it is about our collective propensity for storytelling, and our need to make meaning, and myth, and symbol into impossibly overlapping confections without beginning or end. It is about our love affair with the concept of Fate, and our fear that it might be real, and the way we both cling to it, and lash out against it. If you love stories more than you love breathing, this is the book for you.

Top 5 Fiction 2020

What a strange year it has been! I hope reading helped get you through the ups and downs. I know I definitely turned to books for both comfort and information, rereading old favourites, and learning about newly relevant subjects. These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2020. You can click the titles for links to the full reviews. Check back on Thursday for my top non-fiction picks!

The Burning God

Cover image for The Burning God by R. F. KuangDisillusioned with the Dragon Republic, Fang Runin has broken with Yin Vaisra and his Hesperian backers, and returned to the South, seeking new allies among the rag tag armies of the Southern Coalition. Nikan remains riven by civil war, and Rin finds to her dismay that the men who lead the Southern forces are no more willing to put a young woman in charge than their Northern counterparts, no matter if she is one of the last shamans in the Empire, able to call down the Phoenix, god of fire and vengeance, onto the battle field. The final installment of R.F. Kuang’s Poppy Wars series follows Rin as she makes the latest in a series of bad bargains with untrustworthy allies who both fear and covet her power.  The Burning God is a visceral finale that forces Rin into reckoning with the carnage wrought by her rash decisions and shifting alliances, even as she attempts to mentally retreat and wall herself off from the catastrophes Nikan will have to overcome in order to ever have any hope of recovering from these cataclysmic power struggles. Kuang brings her first trilogy to a close as it began, in fire and blood, and with many questions for which there are no easy answers or neat solutions.

Categories: Fantasy

Felix Ever After

Cover image for Felix Ever After by Kacen CallenderKacen Callender tells the story of Felix Love, a high school student who has already transitioned to male, but is still exploring their gender identity and coming to terms with some of the non-binary options. Felix has never been in love, but has a deep romantic streak, and this novel sees him caught between an enemies-to-lovers epistolary romance via Instagram messages, and the possibility that one of his oldest friendships is actually romantic. Next to the romances, my favourite element of this book was the way it explored the complicated forms of internalized homophobia and transphobia that can exist within the queer community where Felix is supposed to feel safe, such as his ex-girlfriend Marisol, and the anonymous bullies causing trouble at school and online.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBTQ+

Red, White & Royal Blue

Cover image for Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonAs the son of the President, Alex Claremont-Diaz, his sister June, and their best friend Nora Holleran are America’s golden children, beloved by the press, and the perfect political surrogates for President Claremont and Vice President Holleran as they pass through the 2018 midterms and aim for re-election in 2020. But Alex commits a very public faux-pas when he gets into an altercation with his long-time rival, Prince Henry of England, at the wedding of Henry’s older brother, Prince Philip. As the White House and Buckingham Palace fly into damage-control mode, Henry and Alex are forced to fake a public friendship for the press, even while the sparks that are flying behind closed doors are of an entirely different sort. But if they ever want to really be together, they’ll have to come to terms with themselves, their families, and their place in history. Casey McQuiston has written what is at heart a light, fluffy romance, but one that also cheekily sends up the problematic aspects of the trope at its center. I suspect that some people won’t like politics intruding into their fluffy romance in this manner, but I personally found it helped to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance rather than simply ignoring the problems inherent in the trope. Your mileage may vary, but for me this was a perfect bit of fluffy, swoony fun.

Categories: Romance, LGBTQ+

Son of a Trickster

Cover image for Son of a Trickster by Eden RobinsonOld beyond his years, teenage Jared feels responsible for all the adults around him, from his mercurial mom Maggie, to her deadbeat boyfriend Richie, to his lying father and his pregnant step-sister, and the elderly neighbours who helped him out in a time of need, as well as their wayward granddaughter, Sarah. His mom is estranged from her own family, and his father’s mother has always harboured the belief that he isn’t actually her grandson, but rather the illegitimate son of a Trickster. His only support, his beloved dog Baby, has recently died, and Jared is having a hard time keeping it together for everyone who needs him. He drinks too much, and smokes too much, and sometimes he blacks out. And sometimes he think he sees and hears things, even when he isn’t half-cut. Things that make him wonder if his grandmother might not be crazy after all. At first, Jared’s life seems normal, or at least, only abnormal in sadly normal human ways. Slowly but surely, however, Eden Robinson layers in little bits of weirdness that creep in around the edges, and Jared’s chapters are mixed with bizarre, expansive interludes that hint at a world beyond his day-to-day reality. The magic seeps in until it is almost pervasive, slowly invading every corner of his life until he has no choice but to face the destiny he has been running from.

Categories: Canadian, Speculative Fiction

The Starless Sea

Cover image for The Starless Sea by Erin MorgensternZachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student who studies video games, but has a passion for story and narrative in all its forms. Visiting the nearly-deserted library between terms, Zachary stumbles across an old book of short stories, an improperly catalogued and mysterious donation to the university’s collection. But what is truly remarkable about this book is that Zachary is in it; the third story perfectly describes a real incident from his childhood, one that he never dared to speak of, let alone commit to paper. Coming eight years on the heels of Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus, The Starless Sea is divided into six books within books. At first, alternating chapters from Zachary’s perspective are interleaved with fragments from his mysterious library find. Morgenstern also layers in excerpts from the diary of Zachary’s friend Kat, one of the few people who seems to notice or care when he goes missing from the university in pursuit of answers, desperate to discover the provenance of the book, and ascertain once and for all whether the world it describes might be real and reachable. The Starless Sea is the story of a magical library, but also something much more impossible than that. It is a story of doorways, and possibilities, of choices and their consequences.

Categories: Fantasy

An honourable mention also goes out to S.A. Chakraborty, who completed her truly excellent Daevabad trilogy with The Empire of Gold this year.

What were your top fiction reads of 2020? I especially want to hear about your comfort reads and fluff! What got you through?

The Starless Sea

Cover image for The Starless Sea by Erin Morgensternby Erin Morgenstern

ISBN 978-0-385-5412-3

 “A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.”

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student who studies video games, but has a passion for story and narrative in all its forms. Visiting the nearly-deserted library between terms, Zachary stumbles across an old book of short stories, an improperly catalogued and mysterious donation to the university’s collection. But what is truly remarkable about this book is that Zachary is in it; the third story perfectly describes a real incident from his childhood, one that he never dared to speak of, let alone commit to paper. Yet here it is, recorded in a book whose publication clearly predates his birth. And if his real story is recorded in Sweet Sorrows, is he to assume that the other stories, of pirates and bees, guardians and rabbits, owls and acolytes are true as well? And what then was recorded on the missing pages that have been torn from the book? Once, when he was still a child, Zachary found the magical door to the place he always longed for, but he didn’t open it, for fear that the magic would not be real. When he went back the next day, the door was gone. Now, his door is calling to him once more, but this time there are those who do not want him to him to open it, because a war is raging beyond the threshold, and Zachary may be the key to victory, or destruction.

Coming eight years on the heels of Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus, The Starless Sea is divided into six books within books. At first, alternating chapters from Zachary’s perspective are interleaved with fragments from his mysterious library find. As his adventure progresses, he encounters two more magical volumes, including Fortunes and Fables, which belongs to the handsome and enigmatic Dorian, and The Ballad of Simon of Eleanor, which tells the story of a love out of time, and a man who was lost because of it. Eventually, the missing fragments of Sweet Sorrows begin to surface. Later still, Morgenstern layers in excerpts from the diary of Zachary’s friend Kat, one of the few people who seems to notice or care when he goes missing from the university in pursuit of answers, desperate to discover the provenance of the book, and ascertain once and for all whether the world it describes might be real and reachable.

The Starless Sea is the story of a magical library, but also something much more impossible than that. It is a story of doorways, and possibilities, of choices and their consequences. Zachary rejects the call of his door on the first encounter (as heroes are wont to do), only to have to live with the regret until he is not entirely sure that the door was ever real at all. It is a story that is less about individual people than it is about our collective propensity for storytelling, and our need to make meaning, and myth, and symbol into impossibly overlapping confections without beginning or end. It is about our love affair with the concept of Fate, and our fear that it might be real, and the way we both cling to it, and lash out against it. If you love stories more than you love breathing, this is the book for you.

A colleague mentioned to me that she tried to listen to The Starless Sea as an audiobook and gave up. With short chapters and quickly shifting narrators, and blurring boundaries between reality and story, I’m not sure that this is a book that lends itself well to the audio format. It is a story that demands your full attention from start to finish. Giving it anything less can only diminish the enjoyment of putting together the pieces to see the full mosaic. It is a story told in fragments that add up to something greater than the sum of their parts. The Starless Sea feels whimsical but its multilayered magic is obviously painstakingly constructed.

I started out reading this book in giant gulps, impatient to devour it whole, only to slow as the number of remaining pages dwindled, both eager to discover how it would end—“the story wanted an ending. Endings are what gives stories meaning”—and reluctant for it to be over, even if “the world is strange and endings are not truly endings.” Fortunately, this is undoubtedly the type of book that will reward rereading, and I look forward to being consumed by it again sometime soon.

Looking for more magical doors? Try Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Looking for more magic hiding in plain sight? Try Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Looking for more magic libraries? Try Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween fellow book lovers! For the last couple years, my book’o’lanterns have been based on current reads, but this year I went classic with a tribute to Sherlock Holmes:

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Last year I featured a carving inspired by Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys:

the-raven-boys-pumpkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my inaugural book’o’lantern was based on the paperback cover of  The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern:

pumpkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some spooky and supernatural reads for the season:

Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

 

 

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2012

These are my favourite fiction titles read (not necessarily published) in 2012. Click the title for links to full reviews, where applicable. My top 5 non-fiction titles for the year will go up Thursday.

1Q84 (978-0307593313) 

Cover image for 1Q84In 1984, personal trainer Aomame disembarks from a taxi in the middle of a Tokyo Expressway and climbs down an emergency exit in order to make an important appointment. But the world at the bottom of the emergency exit is subtly different from the world she left behind. Also in Tokyo, author Tengo is approached by a publishing contact with an offer to ghostwrite a beautiful and unusual fantasy novel written by a peculiar seventeen year old girl with a troubled past. Haruki Murakami weaves elements of mystery, fantasy and dystopia together brilliantly to reveal the connection between Aomame and Tengo and their seemingly disparate stories.

Categories: Fantasy, Dystopia


Lamb
(978-0380813810)

Cover image for Lamb by Christopher MooreWith his signature wit and humour, Christopher Moore brings a bright new perspective to the life of Christ and the many myths surrounding it by retelling it from the point of view of his dedicated and clumsy childhood pal, Biff. Biff has been reincarnated to tell the tale of the missing years of Christ’s life, between his childhood and his ministry. Their travels through Asia might more aptly be styled misadventures, but they all lead back to the fate that waits for “Joshua” on Calvary. Moore’s Gospel according to Biff is irreverent and hilarious.

Categories: Humour, Mythology

The Night Circus (978-0307744432)

Cover Image for The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternTwo great magicians with a long-standing rivalry pit their apprentices against one another in a battle of skill and wits with an unusual setting: a magical black and white circus which operates only at night. Celia and Marco are bound to the struggle but their growing feelings for one another and frustration with their mentors cause them to rebel against their fate. And the luminous circus setting in which they face off has serious consequences for the other denizens of the circus as the competition stretches on. Erin Morgenstern brings the circus to life in the mind’s eye in stunning detail.

Categories: Fantasy, Romance

The Wolf Gift (978-0-307-59511-9)

Cover Image for The Wolf Gift by Anne RiceReturning to the world of supernatural fiction, Anne Rice puts her own spin on the legend of the werewolf. Reuben Golding is a young reporter from a wealthy San Francisco family. He has a budding career and beautiful girlfriend, but his life is turned on its head when he is invited to Nideck Point, a majestic and isolated manor on the Mendocino coast. His hostess is murdered, and he is ravaged by a werewolf. When he transforms himself, he is compelled to answer the cries of suffering innocents, and is left to struggle with the moral implications of the violence he inflicts on their tormentors. Anne Rice blends philosophic introspection and supernatural mystery along with her unusual talent for describing houses and landscapes. The sequel, The Wolves of Midwinter, has been announced for October 2013.

Categories: Fantasy, Horror

Song of Achilles (978-0062060624)

Cover image for Song of Achilles by Madeleine MillerThe legend of Achilles and his role in the fall of Troy are exquisitely reimagined by Madeleine Miller, told from the perspective of his dedicated companion, Patroclus. Former prince Patroclus is an unwanted exile in the court of King Peleus. Despite his dark past, Patroclus is gentle and disinclined towards the martial arts he is expected to master. Achilles is a natural warrior, destined for great conquests by the ambition of his goddess mother, Thetis. Their opposing natures bind them together into a steadfast friendship that grows into a romance that will see Patroclus follow Achilles to the walls of Troy, despite Thetis’s determined efforts to drive them apart. Miller delivers a moving tale of friendship and romance doomed by its setting on the stage of history.

Categories: LGBT, Mythology, Romance

The Night Circus

Cover Image for The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern by Erin Morgenstern

ISBN 978-0307744432

In her fiction debut, multimedia artist Erin Morgenstern invites the reader into a fantastic world that comes to life on the page. Morgenstern makes unusually adept use of intermittent second person narration to personally invite the reader into a magnificent spectacle in which a nocturnal, black and white circus serves as the venue for a magical faceoff between the pupils of two rival magicians with different teaching philosophies. However, the instructors’ plans are complicated when their apprentices, Celia and Marco, fall in love.

The great strength of this novel is the development of the circus mise en scène. Ostensibly set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the action of The Night Circus takes place largely within the bounds of Le Cirque des Rêves, insulated from the passage of time. While the world outside the circus—with the exception of Chandresh’s parties—is stripped down and barely described, attention is lavished upon the details of the exhibition ground. Lush descriptions allow the reader to effortlessly construct the circus in the mind’s eye as Morgenstern beautifully captures all five senses in words. So lovingly is the circus described that it feels more real and immediate than the characters themselves.

Indeed, the primary criticism of The Night Circus is that the lead characters are not as fully fleshed out as they might be. Although they are the protagonists, we know much more about Celia and Marco’s powers than their personalities. Their romance has a certain sense of inevitability; Celia and Marco seem to be in love not because their characters are drawn to one another, but because the plot and the setting demand it. This is put best by the mysterious contortionist, Tsukiko, who comments that she has “been surrounded by love letters you two have built each other for years, encased in tents.” However, the less than relatable protagonists are amply supported by a stunning cast of secondary characters

The supporting cast is rounded out by the mercurial visionary behind the Circus, Chandresh, the ardent circus follower and clockmaker, Friedrick Thiessen, the twins born at midnight upon the opening of the circus, Poppet and Widget, and their friend, the young circus devotee, Bailey. Chandresh’s story allows Morgenstern to examine the implications of the complex duel setting for those involved in its design. Herr Thiessen and Bailey exemplify the innocent magic of the circus for the outside observer. Poppet and Widget are children who have never known life outside the circus, and indeed are inextricably bound to it as more than mere performers. Morgenstern offers a refreshing depiction of gender roles in fantasy, giving us a world where “most maidens are perfectly capable of saving themselves” and it is quite all right for boys to wonder “why it seems that only girls are ever swept away from their mundane lives on farms by knights or princes or wolves.”

Moving backwards and forwards through time from the inception of the circus to the crisis of the magical competition, Morgenstern weaves together a complex structure which enhances the mystery and tension of the circus without confusing the attentive reader. The magic of the circus makes this book impossible to put down, even when the pacing lags a little. Readers expecting a magical version of The Hunger Games will be sorely disappointed, as the toll of this battle is largely emotional; The Night Circus is more theatrical exhibition than gladiatorial arena.

The Night Circus Jack o Lantern