The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey. ★★★★1/2
Occasionally I’ll come across a book that’ll have me saying, “Yes, THIS is what I want from the fantasy genre.” The Steel Seraglio is one such book.
When a violent coup shakes the city of Bessa, the sultan’s 365 concubines find themselves in the hands of a religious zealot who has no use for them. They are first exiled and then ordered dead. But the women of Bessa’s harem have their own plans.
The Golden Yarn is the third book in the highly enjoyable Mirrorworld series by Cornelia Funke. The prior books are Reckless and Fearless, and I recommend reading them prior to The Golden Yarn. I really loved Fearless when I read it a couple of years ago, and I think my expectations for The Golden Yarn were possibly too high. Not that The Golden Yarn is a bad book by any means – it just didn’t inspire the furor that would cause me to give it a five star review.
The premise of the series is that there exists another world from which many of our fairy tales and myths come. Jacob Reckless, a twenty something American, has been traveling through an enchanted mirror and exploring this magical world since childhood. This fairy tale land has not gone unchanged since the days of the stories origins and is being shaped by war and industrialization. There’s fairies, but also trains and early automobiles.
Through the Woods is a hauntingly beautiful collection of five short stories told through Emily Carroll’s stunning artwork. I borrowed a copy from a friend, but this is the sort of book that I desperately want to go out and get my own copy of so that I can cherish it and spend hours pouring over the artwork.
The stories call to mind fairy tales of the darkest sort – blood, death, and the creeping shadows of the mysterious woods. The first story, “Our Neighbor’s House,” is about three girls who’s father tells them that if he is not back by sunset of the third day, they should immediately trek across the snow to the neighbors. “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” is reminiscent of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale. “His Face All Red” is about a man who killed his brother in the woods. In “My Friend Janna,” a young woman pretends to speak to ghosts but becomes haunted herself. “The Nesting Place” is a horror story of a girl who goes to stay with her brother’s fiancee.
The Last Hero written by Terry Pratchett, illustrated by Paul Kidby. ★★★★
The Last Hero is a shorter, illustrated Discworld book. It’s short enough that you can probably read it in one sitting (I did). Do you need to have read prior Discworld books? It would probably help if you’re familiar with the characters, but I don’t think it’s a requirement for enjoying The Last Hero.
In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente. ★★★★★
Catherynne M. Valente’s In the Night Garden is practically indescribable. It is a beautiful, wondrous book and undoubtedly one of the best I will read all year.
In the garden of a palace, there lives a cast out girl who says she has stories written upon her eyelids. Most of the other palace residents scorn her, but one young prince begins to come to her to hear the stories.
My initial impression was that In the Night Garden was a short story collection with framing device. However, this brute description does convey the intertwined and layered nature of the stories.
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan. ★★1/2
In short, there were not enough dragons.
The basic premise of this book is that it is the memoir of an early adventure of a naturalist famed for her study of dragons, Lady Isabella Trent. Thus it includes asides by Isabella and references to future events. However, the span of the novel covers only her first nineteen years of life, centering around one expedition to study dragons in a foreign land.
One of my problems with the book is that it is a second world fantasy and yet completely copies the social structures and culture of Victorian England. What’s the point? It didn’t feel at all like a second world fantasy, despite the made up place names. It would have made far more sense to make this an alternate history story, like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or His Majesty’s Dragon, especially since A Natural History of Dragons was sort of playing into “The Good Old Age of British Imperialism” with Isabella going off to study dragons in foreign lands among superstitious peasants. There were also tinges of “white savior” there with saving the village peasants from marauding dragons being the undisputed duty of the faux-British science expedition.
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke. ★★★1/2
Like all short story collections, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a mixed bag. While it does not have any truly horrible stories, there are some that are mediocre (along with some rather wonderful ones.)
These stories are set in the same world of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but they are independent stories and can be read as such. If you’re wary of picking up the 1,000 pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, you might want to try out these stories first to get an idea of how she writes.