The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (My Rating: 5/5) I did not read this in July. I read it at the end of June. I failed to include it in my June wrap-up, which is especially awful since you can tell by my rating that I loved this. Better late than never though.
This book tells the sordid tale of an island that becomes besotted with selkies, women who come from the skins of seals. It gives the backstory of the woman with the power to bring these women forth. It goes through a few generations, and how this destroys things on the island.
Lanagan weaves the magic beautifully, but she’s also a master at keeping your attention otherwise. I found this compelling from beginning to end. The messages she’s sending through the story, which are strongly feminist if you couldn’t tell, resonant long after you’ve finished the book. She takes the idea of the selkie as a creature that can’t be trusted and turns that lens back on the men that “can’t resist” them. The breaking down of this community over the rise of this magic feels like a slow, sad apocalypse of sorts. The “not with a bang but a whimper” kind that leaves you reeling with how one thing can lead to another. I absolutely loved this, and I recommend it to anyone looking for selkie or mermaid stories.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (My Rating: 3/5) I wanted to love this, and I only thought it was okay. But wanting to love it might’ve been half of the problem. Getting one’s hopes up that high is never a great idea, but that’s the hype train for you. I kind of expected perfection from a book that won both a Nebula and a Hugo, and I didn’t feel this had that.
I loved the story itself and the premise. I loved the cultural touches Okorafor added to Binti’s character. But I didn’t love the actual telling. The exposition was clumsy. The story moved so fast that suddenly Binti had a bunch of best friends and a love interest and then on the next page they’re all dead. And because of the speed with which this happened, I didn’t care. Then after killing these people that we’re told are important to her, she manages to help these creatures and becomes friends with one of them. Without properly addressing how she got to that point inwardly. It seems like that would be nearly impossible to cope with. But then everything in this story was too easy. Binti’s gift comes too easily. The ending is wrapped up nice and neat. This story needed more space to properly develop.
I will say that if you’re a big young adult reader and you’re trying to find that thruway into adult speculative fiction? Here it is. Right here. This would really appeal to YA readers.
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (My Rating: 4/5) First thing to note is that this is not #OwnVoices. Matt Ruff is white, but what he has told here is very profound. He discusses (sometimes overtly but often between the lines) the racist ideologies of pulp writers who molded the genres of horror and SFF. He explores what it must be like to be a PoC and a fan of a genre full of stories that, as one character puts it, “sometimes, they stab me in the heart.”
But then it does even more. It puts these characters in a Lovecraftian scenario. Several, in fact, that all crossover at the book’s climax. The thing that’s wonderful about it is these characters are smart, capable, strong, and good at problem solving. Extra important when he chose to set the story during America’s segregation era. It’s a very politically driven novel, and yet I can also say it was fun. He manages that balance really beautifully.
My one issue, and I’m still not sure how to navigate my feelings about it, was Ruby’s story. She gains the power via an elixir to change into a white woman whenever she likes. Already that is some shaky ground. Then on top of that I felt like the ending of her story was troubling. It’s a shame because the rest of the book felt like it was clipping along just fine. In fact, if anyone has read this and can give me their thoughts on that section of the story, I’d love to hear them. Otherwise, this was a fantastic experience that I recommend.
Tortured Souls by Clive Barker (My Rating: 4/5) Another of those novella-length books like Infernal Parade, only I enjoyed this one far more. Probably because where Infernal Parade was a short story collection, this is one complete tale. The short space doesn’t feel so misused in that case, and I feel like I received a full experience from it. It was classic Clive, and I’m talking his Books of Blood days. Those good ole days. Where the writing is sharp and cruel and beautiful. I do wish it had been longer. And I do think there were a couple of clumsy bits, where the original format of these being interconnected stories written for action figures shows. But those are minor quibbles. I still think this is worth a read.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (My Rating: 5/5) This is one of the rare times when a book entirely lives up to the hype. All the nominations, winning a Hugo, taking over the SFF corner of booktube, all completely warranted. This was a phenomenal book on so many levels. The first level: it’s an incredibly well-built fantasy world with sense to it and logic even among the weird powers and magic. It’s peopled with solid characters that develop, their layers peeled back bit by bit as we learn who they are. The story moves along at a perfect pace, and it made a roughly 450 page book feel so fast.
Even more than that, she was saying something with this book. About what we’ve done to the planet and how it likely won’t continue to take much more. About people and how they (often badly) treat those who are different. How fear makes you act. About the diverse world we live in, and how natural it should be to include that diversity in our fiction. This book said things that have needed to be said in this genre, and she doesn’t shy from a single, important topic.
I’ve already ordered the second book. I pre-ordered the third, which comes out in August, and the wait for both is still excruciating. I’ve never wanted to power through a series as badly as I do this one. Hugely recommended.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (My Rating: 4/5) Yet another retelling that takes the majority of its inspiration from Beauty and the Beast. I say majority because there’s also Bluebeard and Rumpelstiltskin and Greek myth and all sorts of things going on here. That’s one of the major draws of this book, the way that it weaves so much myth so seamlessly together into one, grand tale.
There’s also a very well-done romance in here. You can’t say that all too often of young adult, but I can certainly say it here. Hodge does something very interesting with the characters, particularly her female lead. She makes Nyx a negative person who is quick to anger and consistently makes mistakes that she wishes she could take back. She feels like a very real person in that way, without the sort of flaws that actually become adorable quirks in the hands of lesser authors. Her love interest, therefore, has a similar darkness about him. This isn’t about some unbalanced couple with nothing in common. Some good girl going for a bad boy. They fall together because they see parts of themselves in each other, and so their growth as a couple feels natural. Also, the banter was quite choice, since they’re both sarcastic buttheads.
If there’s a downside, I’d say sometimes she went for whimsy for the sake of whimsy. There were aspects of the magical castle, for instance, that aren’t explained. Things just happen. Not that it needs an explanation, but often those set pieces where she’s searching for a piece of the plot’s puzzle, felt very random, with visuals that would be better suited to a film rather than a novel. Also, there’s a character I cared absolutely nothing about (Shade) who gets too much time dedicated to him early on. Anything that detracted from my enjoyment felt like the typical stumblings of an author’s debut. So for all that, it was very impressive.
That’s all I managed to read in July, but it was a decent reading month. Until next time, happy geeking!
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