This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the good books I’ve read! Here are a few of my recent favorites in case you’re looking for a good holiday read (or a holiday gift). As always, your mileage may vary, but I loved all of these for different reasons.
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. Adult fantasy.
I picked this one up because I greatly enjoyed Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but this novel was even better. Jemisin blew me away with her world-building and beautiful writing. It’s the tale of an alternate earth called the Stillness, which is plagued by constant seismic activity. This leads to frequent near-extinction events called “Fifth Seasons” that keep humans on their toes. The evidence of past civilizations litters the planet — ruined cities, incomplete ‘stonelore’ handed down from earlier generations, and strange obelisks that float through the atmosphere like low-altitude satellites and serve no apparent purpose. The civilization that we meet in this book, the Sanze Empire, has survived for centuries by harnessing the power of orogenes — people born with an innate ability to control their environment. The orogenes can stop earthquakes or start them. They can save cities, or drawn power from living creatures and “ice” them. Their powers are terrifying yet essential, so the empire develops a caste of Guardians who have the power to neutralize the orogenes when necessary. The orogenes are held in contempt and called “roggas” by ordinary humans. Despite all their power, they cannot control their own lives. They are either hunted down and destroyed or sent to the Fulcrum to be trained and used by the empire. Imagine Hogwarts, if Hogwarts treated its students like chattel. The world Jemisin creates is as horrific as it is brilliant.
My advice is to give the book at least fifty pages before passing judgment, because it takes a while to understand what is going on. There is a lot of terminology to get used to, and the book is told in three intertwining narratives that at first don’t seem to match up, but once you get into the world and into the story, it is a fantastically rewarding read. I can’t say much about the plot without giving away some of the wonderful surprises, but if you want to read about a truly dystopian world that holds a mirror to the darkest of human motivations, this novel will haunt you long after you finish it.
Pacific Crucible, by Ian W. Toll. History nonfiction.
I love history, and this is one of those books that is so good it reads like a novel. Toll brings to life the major players of the Pacific War on both sides of the conflict, drawing on Japanese primary sources as well as Allied. I have read a lot about the Second World War, but I still learned a great deal about this part of the conflict, which takes us through the rise of Imperial Japan, to Pearl Harbor, and on to the Battle of Midway. I am now reading the second in Toll’s projected trilogy, The Conquering Tide, and loving it just as much. If you like accessible, highly readable history, this is a great choice.
Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan. Middle grade fantasy.
It’s not really fair for me to recommend this yet, because you won’t be able to buy it until it comes out in April, but I would highly recommend you keep it on your long-term radar.
Have you ever started reading a book thinking, ‘Oh, well, I may not like it but I’ll give it a try,’ then quickly found yourself sucked into the story and thinking, ‘Holy Hera, this is good!’ That was my experience with Shadow Magic. It’s told from the alternating perspectives of Thorn, the wayward son of an outlaw, and Lillith Shadow, the heir of one of six ancient magical kingdoms. There should be no reason for these two to ever cross paths, but they do, and the combination is explosive.
Lillith is the heir of Gehenna, the kingdom of darkness. She wasn’t supposed to become the ruler, but her family is murdered under mysterious circumstances, which leaves her next in line to the throne. Her family was once able to summon legions of the undead, speak to ghosts, and do all sorts of cool darkness magic that Nico di Angelo would approve of. Unfortunately, Gehenna’s glory days are long past, and women are not allowed to practice sorcery upon pain of death, so Lillith cannot use whatever powers she might have. Gehenna is so weak, Lillith is forced to make a marriage alliance with their ancient enemies, the bright and shiny kingdom of light. (Gross!)
Thorn, a young nobody from the north, is captured and sold into slavery to an executioner named Tyburn, who happens to work for the kingdom of Shadow. Thorn arrives in the land of darkness, and is soon plunged into a mystery with Lillith about who killed her parents. We find out that Thorn and Lillith both have unexpected powers and many secrets. We meet some fantastic characters, including a giant bat named Hades (How could I not love that?).
This book is a wonderful page-turner for young readers. It’s got all the elements of a great fantasy, rendered in a fresh, alluring, well-crafted world, with sympathetic characters and tons of mystery. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Come spring time, get a copy. You’ll thank me for it!