I would have gotten credit for the second book of the classic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell trilogy this month, but nooooo. It had to be one giant book.
Vicious, VE Schwab
A few chapters into this, I thought it was going to be basically Nimona from the perspective of Blackheart, but I was so wrong. My kryptonite in superpowered-people stories (because these characters are unequivocally not heroes) is an exploration of consequences of superpowers – things like required secondary powers (like Superman has to have the ability to distribute the massive weight of the things he lifts or he would sink into the ground), or in this case, the consequences of powers (both personally and in their use). This one had the added twist that instead of the powers informing their personality, their personality – or more precisely, their desperate thoughts while having a near-death experience – causes the powers. (For example, SPOILER, the main character’s power is to take away pain, because he wished for the pain to end. The antagonist heals his wounds, because he wanted to fix the people he saw as broken.) While the detailed college setting in the early part of the book was a little too clearly “write what you know” college life, it was necessary setup (because the whole plot is kicked off by the antagonist’s senior thesis), and it quickly escaped to jump 10 years down the road, where things get much more interesting. And then terrible and sad, especially when Sydney arrives on the scene.
I just found out a sequel is coming this fall!
Genre: mystery, speculative, relationship. Setting: science fantasy. Format: novel. Rating: 3/3
Tempests and Slaughter, Tamora Pierce
I got to go see Tamora Pierce speak on tour for the release of this book! Besides being gripping stories with well-developed characters who are far too easy to get invested in, her young protagonists are amazing role models for kids, showing how to grow into your skills, work with a team to tackle problems bigger than any of you can handle alone, and maintain lifelong friendships even when the circumstances of life try to intervene. She also definitely knows what role models her characters are to a lot of kids (including little me!). She is SO fired up about these messages! The audience at the event was overwhelmingly women in their 20s to 40s who definitely read her books as children. Some of them had their kids with them who were the right age to be reading the books for the first time now!
Do you have a readerly kid (or grown-up) in your life who you want to give a gift? Give them one of Tamora Pierce’s books! This book is the 18th novel in the Tortall universe and the start of the 6th miniseries (all 5 others are complete). I would strongly suggest not reading this book first in the Tortall universe – it’s functionally a prequel to the Wild Magic series, and works much better knowing what comes later for Arram. Instead, while they’re not my favorite series in Tortall, I would recommend starting with the Alanna books, which were released first, and the later books mostly assume the reader knows who Alanna is. Alternatively, the Circle of Magic series (currently 10 books and counting) are equally fantastic but far less known – maybe because the first Tortall came out 10 years before Circle of Magic?
Genre: character study, ensemble, coming of age. Setting: the most fantastical fantasy that ever was. Format: novel. Rating: 3/3, and I thought I was over the Tamora Pierce reading obsession phase of my life, but I WAS WRONG