Grave Mercy hooked me with a great premise: medieval nun assassins who serve Saint Mortain, the god of death. The novel is set in an alternate realm of Brittany, where the local gods have been subsumed by Christianity and renamed saints. The old ways live on, however, especially among the daughters of Saint Mortain, who serve as the realm’s assassins, killing those who need to be killed.
Our lethal heroine, Ismae, escapes a life of poverty and abuse by joining the convent. Soon she is plunged into a game of intrigue and villainy as the realm tries to maintain its independence from France. Unfortunately for Ismae, one of the people she is sent to spy on (and possibly assassinate) is the first man she feels she might love.
The novel is driven by mystery, romance and subtle skulduggery. It isn’t exactly an adventure novel, so don’t expect a fight on every page, but if you stick with it, it’s well worth reading! I’d recommend it to YA fans, especially those with an interest in history. The closest parallel I can think of is Cashore’s Graceling — another fantastic romance about a deadly heroine.
Leviathan Wakes was recommended by George R.R. Martin (one of the two authors who comprise the team of ‘James A. Corey’ apparently works for Martin). It had been a while since I’d read a straight-up space opera sci fi, so I gave it a try and loved it.
I especially liked the scope of the novel, which is set a few centuries in the future, when humanity has colonized much of the solar system but still has not reached the stars (or found alien life). Sadly, human politics and jingoism haven’t changed much. Earth and Mars are in an uneasy alliance, and the humans living out on the asteroids of “the Belt” feel like exploited colonists. A fringe group called the OPA are agitating for war, with echoes of the American Revolution. Against this backdrop, two men from very different backgrounds are pulled into a horrifying mystery — a disappearing ship, a girl with a complicated past, a Black Ops attack that threatens to start a solar-system-wide war, and a discovery that could change or destroy humanity.
The mystery will keep the pages turning. The characters are vividly brought to life. And the world is just alien enough, and just familiar enough, that I’ll be anxious to read more books about. An adult novel, but YA sci fi fans will also love it.
Prince of Thorns — wow, I’ve heard of dark fantasy and anti-heroes, but this is the darkest fantasy with the anti-est anti-hero I’ve ever encountered. Our protagonist Jorg is only thirteen, but do not mistake this for a kids’ book! Jorg is already the leader of a cutthroat gang of marauders, and has killed more men than most seasoned warriors — including innocent civilians and a few of his own followers. Despite all this, I found myself rooting for Jorg, especially as more of his past is revealed, and we learn why he has become such a hardened, unrepentant killer. He lives in a broken empire where minor lords are constantly squabbling, but who is really pulling the strings of power? Jorg intends to find out. He aims to become king by the time he is fifteen, and once you meet you, you won’t be betting against him! If you’ve ever wanted to read a first-person book about a hero who is also the darkest of villains, try this out. It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before.
Lastly, my favorite recent non-fiction read: The Warmth of Other Suns. This is one of those rare history books that makes history as fresh and relevant as local headlines, and as gripping as a novel. I’ll admit that even with my background as an American history teacher, I didn’t know much about the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, during which millions of African Americans left the Jim Crow South for the North and the West, permanently changing the demographics of the U.S. Wilkerson follows the lives of three such people in different decades, while augmenting their stories with anecdotes from many sources. The result is a riveting personal narrative, powerfully written, that may open your eyes (as it did mine) to part of our national history that needs much attention. Highly recommended to high school and above.