I am reading the steampunk/UF Sherlock Holmes homage Jackaby by William Ritter. An emblematic quote: “Jackaby…had a way of opening that corner of my brain. It was a quiet little corner in which I had lived when I was younger. It was a corner in which anything was possible, where magic was not an improbable daydream….” Ritter’s fluid, almost poetic prose certainly evokes the era he’s aiming for (Victorian 18-somethings, but in the USA), in a way many less skilled authors in the genre stumble over, winding up instead sounding like half-educated nitwits trying to pass for posh. No such grating missteps here. The characters, of course, stretch social mores in what might be called a predictable fashion–what is steampunk without spunky female leads who would actually have been committed in real life?–but, too, where’s the fun in stuffy propriety, anyway? They may be somewhat stereotypically not stereotypical, but the characters embrace their differences with plausible depth and fervor. The mystery aspects keep the reader guessing, without tipping into the opacity some poorly explained and apparently Byzantine magic systems lead to in other examples: “Because magic and it will be explained later.” Again, there’s a plausibility about the whole thing. On the whole, I’ll be hard-pressed to find my next obsession of equal quality.
Gail Siegel, Contributing Writer
Jackaby (Jackaby #1) by William Ritter
Steampunk | Algonquin Young Readers | 2014
I am reading Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I feel like this one might have flown under a lot of radars, and that’s a shame. A brilliantly conceived world, full of madmen and steampunk inventions, with a hint of reality just to ground the fantastic, this is peak genre. Throw in an LGBT lead and you’ve got yourself a winner in my book. The POV might take some (a lot) getting used to, but if you give it a shot, I think you’re going to be greatly surprised.
Geonn Cannon, Contributing Writer
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Steampunk | Tor Books | 2015
I have just this minute finished Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs, the third book in the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trilogy. Which was thankfully a trilogy because I started the first book yesterday thinking it was a standalone, and halfway through began to worry that everything wouldn’t be resolved. At least the trilogy is complete, and I was not left midway through an unfinished series where I had to wait some awful amount of time for a resolution. I hate that.
The trilogy is great but nothing at all what I expected. From the ‘Now a Major Motion Picture’ and the promotional poster of Eva Green as a beautiful Miss Peregrine, I thought I was going to be reading something more Harry Potter and less Pride and Prejudice and Zombies-meets-The Hunger Games.
I am often late to the party on these things, but I have read way, way too many of the modern Young Adult three-volume novel and I wasn’t really looking for another one. Somewhere throughout the journey from The Hunger Games to Divergent to Shatter Me (I’m actually ashamed of that one), I became aware that at some point along the line, teenagers saving the world in three acts became a genre unto-itself.
SPOILER ALERT. This trilogy bucks convention and provides a comprehensively happy ending. As in, the protagonist teenage lovers both save the world, and don’t die doing it, and don’t lose any close family members (like little sisters) and they still end up together at the end. After all the death and love triangles of the others in the genre, it’s a nice change.
B. C. Roberts, Columnist Plenipotentiary
Library of Souls (Peculiar Children #3) by Ransom Riggs
YA | Quirk Books | 2015
I’m reading The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. I found this book through a “blind date” section in a bookshop — a handful of paperbacks, all wrapped in brown paper, with their genre and a general teaser of the plot and style hand-written in Sharpie. It’s a fresh take on an amnesia storyline: the heroine Myfanwy has been given advance warning of her impending total amnesia, so she used the time to prepare letters and cheat-sheets, and an organised binder of information to leave for the newborn consciousness within her body, giving her a fighting chance of surviving the crazy life she has just been thrust into. Crazy because, oh yeah, Myfanwy has freakin’ SUPER POWERS, works in a secret agency full of super-powered people that polices and manages supernatural occurrences in the normal world, and is in the midst of uncovering a dangerous conspiracy involving some of those very same powered individuals who are supposed to be her trusted colleagues. It is an exciting and original read so far, and I cannot begin to guess at the conclusion… And really, in this dumbed-down world of predictable YA fiction, can there be any higher praise??
Cathy van Hoof, Staff Writer
The Rook (The Chequy Files #1) by Daniel O’Malley
YA UF | Little, Brown and Company | 2012
I just finished Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. The moon suddenly breaks into pieces one day, and humanity scrambles to survive the chain of events that follow. Things go badly awry, to the extent that our only hope lies in the hands of seven remarkable women… In addition to all the strong female characters (somewhere, Alison Bechdel is clasping this book to her heart and shouting “YAAAAS QUEEN” at the top of her voice), Seveneves includes a bunch of thinly-disguised real-life characters that it’s fun to try to spot. Look! There’s Neil deGrasse Tyson. Look! There’s Malala Yousafzai. Even Mini-Me was entranced…until the last third, where perhaps some ennui set in (I agree with her, for the record). But it was two-thirds of an excellent read.
Kate Nagy, Editor at Large
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Apocalyptic SF | William Morrow | 2015
I’m reading Urban Allies, a fat paperback anthology with the clever shtick of having two authors per story, each bringing their universe into the collision. The stories switch back and forth between the two characters’ points of views, so the voices are unique to their home authors. For example, Kelly Armstrong and Seanan McGuire have Elena and Verity cross paths in upstate New York over a cryptid-poacher. If you are a fan of urban fantasy and like the idea of mixed metaphors, this is a fun book.
Colleen Reed, Contributing Writer
Urban Allies, edited by Joseph Nassise
Urban Fantasy | Harper Voyager | 2016
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