Saturday, March 27, 2010

Recommended Reading: First Quarter, 2010

Lobster murmurs and canary whistles... time to blog again...

Recommended books read this first quarter of 2010:

We highly recommend N.K. Jemisin's debut, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Orbit, released February, 2010). Jemisin has created a distinctive world, with idiosyncratic characters, vaguely Peakean in flavor, but entirely her own. We especially enjoy her dry wit, precise prose, and intricate plotting. Above all, we like her portrayals of the gods who have been enslaved: they are both more and less than human, raising a chill up the reader's spine while also tugging at our heart. We love them, fear them, do not understand them all at once-- we are as baffled, entranced and repelled as the heroine Yeine is by the immortal trickster youth Sieh and the terrifying (and terrifyingly erotic) Nightlord Nahadoth. Jemisin promises us two more in this series-- we await these eagerly.

Cherie Priest also does a fine job creating alien (eldritch, to use an overused but in this case very appropriate word) characters in Fathom (Tor, 2008, first paperback release February, 2010). The water elemental Arahab seeks to awake Leviathian from his slumbers deep below the earth's crust-- which will destroy the world. Yet Arahab is no caricature of evil: her actions have a defensible if wholly alien logic and ethic; she is willful, mercurial, but she weighs and measures, ponders, has doubts, is not merely hateful. If anyone is truly and one-sidedly evil in Fathom, it is the human Berenice, who betrays everyone, including her savior and patron Arahab. And then there is the enigmatic spirit called Mossfeaster: "From the feet up, the creature began to dissolve itself, not so much collapsing as letting the ground absorb it. But before the last of the shoulders, neck and head disappeared, it offered one final thought. 'You can help a thing who loves the world destroy it; or you can help a thing who hates it save it'" (page 100).

Spiritual quandaries also pervade Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress (Tor, 2009, first paperback edition February, 2010). Extraterrestials arrive to atone for a crime against humanity that no one on Earth knows anything about. "The Atoners" take selected humans to other planets to witness the consequences of this crime. Kress combines fast-paced drama with thought-provoking propositions. The revelations of the witnesses challenge deeply held beliefs; Kress is very good at describing how humanity reacts, in ways both trivial (celebrity tours, pop culture engulfment) and mortally important.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Hodder U.K., 2007; first U.S. edition, Dial/Penguin, 2010) is really, really good. Finn has no memories of his past, but is now a Prisoner in the unimaginably vicious, squalid and vast prison-world of Incarceron-- a prison that is itself coldly intelligent, indifferently manipulating the fates of its inhabitants. There is and can be no escape from Incarceron. But where is Incarceron? That is the question for Claudia, daughter of the Warden, and her tutor, the Sapient Jared. As Finn and his deceitful, half-crazed companions desperately seek to escape the inescapable, Claudia (about to be married against her will to the Crown Prince) is furiously trying to locate Incarceron...all the more so when she and Finn stumble into conversation via a matched set of scientifico-magical Keys. Incarceron has it all: a twisting plot, flawed and believable characters, settings that live on after you shut the page. Peake and Vance come to mind, The Man in the Iron Mask, Dickens, Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games... we look forward to Incarceron's sequel, Sapphique.

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