This month I have read 100% books by women. Hurrah! Octavia Butler, Victoria Raschke, Patti Callahan Henry, A S Byatt, and Cornelia Funke.
The Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
This book is amazing and also disturbing. It was written in 1993, and is set in 2024 when society has started breaking down because of climate change. Society in the book is worse than the current state of things, but I can still see how we could get there from where we are now. Some of the things are already happening: food is getting more expensive, the police are a corrupt and violent gang, slavery is getting more widespread (it never went away, it just changed its form). What makes this a great book is that it emphasizes that the only way to succeed is to find or create a community, a group of people who you can trust. There’s a lot of death in the book, but what makes it a hopeful book is the creation of the Earthseed community. The concept of the Earthseed religion is amazing too, and I could see how it could be a viable religion. If you enjoyed/appreciated The Marrow Thieves by Chérie Dimaline, Where late the sweet birds sang by Kate Wilhelm, or the Emberverse series by SM Stirling, you’ll appreciate this book.
Once upon a wardrobe, Patti Callahan Henry
I loved the characters in this book — Megs, George, and Padraig, and the way that Jack and Warnie are drawn. Although I’ve read two biographies of Lewis and numerous books about the Inklings, a fictional approach to his life seems like a great way to give a different perspective on it. Patti Callahan Henry’s writing is very good and easy to read (despite the use of present tense). She notices little details that bring things to life.
HOWEVER: if you’re going to write a book about England, PLEASE, for the love of all that’s holy, get an English person to proofread it. Lots of people proofread the book but it seems none of them were English. We don’t say that we are sick, we say that we are ill. There are numerous Americanisms in the text (e.g. math instead of maths, sidewalk instead of pavement, sick instead of ill, I hear you, stoop instead of doorstep, the omission of “and” in phrases where an English person would include it but an American would not). I think the decision to use 1940s slang very sparingly was a good decision (there’s one “jolly” and one “by Jove”, which was probably enough). If you must use American English in your book about England, don’t write it in the first person. It’s very jarring for an English person to read.
That said, some of the scenes in the book were absolutely magical and I still loved it in spite of this giant flaw. So I only knocked off one star. I considered knocking off another one for writing it in the present tense, which always annoys me, but I added it back on for the message of the book, which was about the magic of stories and connections between people; and the mystery at the heart of everything which cannot be grasped, only glimpsed.
Who by Water, Victoria Raschke
This is book one of “Voices of the Dead” by Victoria Raschke and it’s soooo good. I love the characters and the magical setup and everything. Highly recommended.
The first couple of chapters set the scene and nothing much supernatural happens, although there are hints. Then Jo, the main character, starts seeing things, and weird stuff starts to happen.
I’ve never been to Ljubljana but I want to go there now. It’s vividly described in the book. The food descriptions are great too.
Our Lady of the Various Sorrows, Victoria Raschke
My only complaint about this book is that it was unputdownable.
Seriously if you love stories about witches, gods, magic, the dead, all set in Eastern Europe, buy the Voices of the Dead series, it’s brilliant. If you like Seanan McGuire, Neil Gaiman, Lana Popovic, and/or Laini Taylor, you’ll love Victoria Raschke’s Voices of the Dead series.
The characters are brilliantly drawn, and there was a whole new layer of plot twists in this book that I didn’t see coming. It’s well written, funny, and also poignant. Can’t wait for the next book, but I also want to eke this series out because I am enjoying it so much.
Like a Pale Moon, Victoria Raschke
Reading this series is like unpacking a magical puzzle box: just when you thought you knew what the gods were up to, it turns out that there was another layer of intrigue beneath the first layer. The plot didn’t just thicken, it got cunning and snuck up behind the characters.
This is just as much of a satisfying read as the first two books: unputdownable and written by someone who really knows their mythology. The writing is beautiful too.
Strange as Angels, Victoria Raschke
This book was as enjoyable as the first three in the series, but not quite as unputdownable; and there were a couple of things that confused me (like why did Dušan make them all go to other places at the start, and how exactly did the ending happen that way?)
Still a really enjoyable romp through the weird supernatural world that exists behind the Veil. Lovely turns of phrase and great characters. And it’s very evocative.
The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: Five Fairy Stories, AS Byatt
Amazing collection of modern fairy tales. My favourite is the titular story, “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye”, which is very beautiful. I also love “The Eldest Princess”. All the stories are a meditation upon storytelling and the shapes of stories as well as being interesting stories. The prose is luscious too.
Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, A S Byatt
Great collection of stories, not as strong as The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, but still wonderful, rich, memorable, unsettling writing. My favourite among these stories is “Cold”, which is a fairytale. I also really like “A Lamia in the Cévennes”, which is a lot of fun and has a nice twist at the end. “Crocodile Tears” was very sad.
Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke
Unusually, the book starts with a rat, a dragon, and a brownie, and we only meet the main human character in the next chapters. There are lots of other refreshing ideas in this book, which is about friendship as much as it’s about dragons and brownies. I also love the way it doesn’t talk down to its audience and introduces concepts like alchemy and homunculi.