Will Do Magic for Small Change by Andrea Hairston. ★★★1/2
Will Do Magic for Small Change feels like Octavia Butler crossed with Charles de Lint. It genres, with aliens and magic, and explores themes such as race, gender, sexuality, and family history. It’s one of the most original SFF novels I’ve read in years.
Will Do Magic for Small Change opens with Cinnamon Jones, a black girl in 1980’s Philadelphia, attending her half-brother’s funeral. Her brother left her a book written by an alien wanderer from another dimension who appeared in West Africa during the 1890’s. The wanderer’s story is not complete and more sections continue to appear as the course of Cinnamon’s teen years. Eventually, Cinnamon realizes that the wanderer’s story has some mysterious connections to her own family history.
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal. ★★★
Ghost Talkers is a historical fantasy novel that speculates that during World War I, the British army uses mediums to gather intelligence from dead soldiers. Ginger Stuyvesant and her fellow mediums work tirelessly on behalf of the British army, channeling the dead soldiers and living through memory after memory of death. The Spiritualist force is kept a closely guarded secret, but word has it that the Germans have found out and are preparing to target the mediums, with the help of a traitor among the top brass.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. ★★★★
Li Lan is the seventeen year old daughter of a declining Chinese merchant family in colonial Malaysia. Her mother’s dead, the family business close to nonexistent, and her father’s addicted to opium. Then, Li Lan receives a marriage offer from the wealthy Lim family – for their dead son. Their marriage would placate his restless spirit. Li Lan refuses the marriage offer, but she soon finds herself haunted and drawn into an otherworldly realm.
The Ghost Bride is a historical fantasy novel with an extremely vivid, atmospheric setting. While The Ghost Bride isn’t marketed as YA, I think it could make an easy crossover. The protagonist is a teenager, the writing is graceful but accessible, and to cap it all up there’s a love triangle. Luckily, it wasn’t a super angsty love triangle, but it was there.
Wise Child by Monica Furlong. ★★★
Wise Child is a quiet fantasy story set in medieval Scotland. A nine year old girl called Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, the isolated village witch. When Wise Child’s mother, a sorceress who uses her powers for her own gain, reappears, Wise Child will have to choose between two ways of life.
Wise Child is clearly aimed at younger readers. It tends to get shelved as YA, but I’d say MG would possibly be more accurate. It’s short, relatively simple, and has a coming of age theme. Yet, I think it can still be appreciated by older readers. Somehow it reminds me of Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. ★★★1/2
I liked The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but I feel like I’ve read other of Claire North’s books where she better handles the same thematic material regarding humanity and immortality. Regardless, there’s still a lot that’s good about this historical science fiction literary mashup.
Harry August continues through his life time after time again, being reborn to the same parents, in the same year, in the same place. But he keeps the knowledge of all the times he has lived this life before. At the end of his eleventh life, a little girl tells him that the world is ending. And that the end of the world has been getting faster.
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. ★★★
Trigger warning for sexual assault, suicide, and abuse.
Six-Gun Snow White is a dark, adult fairy tale novella from the masterful Catherynne M. Valente. While I enjoyed Valente’s prose, I ultimately found the book too strange for my taste.
Snow White is the daughter of a Nevada silver baron and a Crow woman he forced into marriage with him who dies in childbirth. When her father remarries, the stepmother, a socialite from the East Coast, renames the girl Snow White in reference to the pale skin she doesn’t have.
The Thief by Claire North. ★★★★
The Thief is the second book in North’s Gameshouse series, a trilogy of novellas. I would recommending reading the prior story, The Serpent, before picking up The Thief.
The Gameshouse contains two levels, one where ordinary games are played and a more exclusive one with games of a much more extraordinary sort…