Quick Fiction Reviews: January 2016

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Every year, I resolve to read more–because why not? I spent my childhood devouring books in a matter of hours, returning from the library with my dragon-print bag packed with tens of appealing volumes. College destroyed all of my chances of reading for fun over the course of a couple of years, but I’ve been making a comeback ever since.

My book tastes are so specific that I sometimes can go through weeks of reading without finding something that really appeals to me. So far, though, January 2016’s reading list has been filled with clever characters, delicate gems of prose, and uplifting stories with just a touch (or more!) of magic…

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I’ve only rarely encountered high-concept novels like Bats of the Republic in my lifetime–actually, I would go so far to say that Zachary Thomas Dodson’s matryoshka doll of a book is completely unlike anything I’ve ever read. Combining scientific illustration with a puzzling dystopian future, an early modern sentimental novel, and many other bits of genres spiralling together, Bats of the Republic makes Cloud Atlas look basic and uncomplicated by comparison.

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Check out Bats of the Republic if you are into: cabinets of curiosities aesthetics, 19th century natural history, letters, alternate histories of Texas, and books that you have to read twice in a row to fully appreciate.

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When I turned twelve, my grandfather sent me a very special present: copies of the first few books of Naomi Novik’s amazing dragons-meet-Master and Commander series. I knew he didn’t fully understand my weird interest in mythological creatures, but it really touched me that he’d seen those dragon-covered paperbacks in a store and thought they were made for me.

Years later, I’ve moved on to Novik’s most recent, less nautical work–the woodsy, complex fairy tale Uprooted, set in a fantastical not-quite-Polish universe. There’s the darkest of forests imaginable, wonderful portrayals of female friendship, and (my weakness!) ancient, indescribable powers from a time long forgotten. Plus, I’ve been doing lots of research into my own probably-Polish ancestry recently, so it was doubly perfect!

Check out Uprooted if you are after: witchy girls, wizard-y love interests with the charm of Howl (of moving castle fame), and some of the most original and beautiful depictions of spell-casting ever made.

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Speaking of fantasy series set in vaguely Eastern European universes, let me tell you about my new (and only?) current favorite YA series: the Grisha series by Leigh Bardugo! Starting with Shadow and Bone, these books make the familiar tropes of young adult fantasy seem fresh and riveting in a fascinating reimagining of the Russian Empire. To be honest, I picked the first one up assuming I’d abandon it after a few pages–and then I read the whole thing in under two hours. So, yeah.

Check out Shadow and Bone (and the books that follow!) if you like: Imperial Russian folklore and culture, almost more banter than Buffy, special powers that stray somewhere between science and magic, and being super stressed out all the time because you have weirdly strong feelings for the characters. Seriously. Beware.

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The last book on this list is one that I’ll definitely have to read again–if only because I think I wasn’t in quite the proper mood to appreciate it the first time around! The Grace Keepers presents an otherworldly Earth divided between endless seas and the few coveted scraps of land left, where sea-caravans of entertainers and evangelicals alike spend their lives setting sail. Its deliberate, calculated language and plot lap slowly against the reader like the tides. I was a little too sad already on the day when I sat down to pore through it, though: its themes of madness and mourning, loss and death, crashed too heavily upon me to bear during a lunch-hour read.

Check out The Grace Keepers if you crave: melancholy, meandering fiction; circus life; the sea and all of its beauty and dangers; selkies/mermaids/other liminal denizens of the deep; and a surprisingly happy-ish ending that shows family can take on any form.

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What’s graced your bookshelves during 2016 so far, my friends? If you also enjoy fantasy/magical realism/surreal things/urban fantasy, I’d adore some good recommendations!

Other books I read this month: Code Name Verity, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising (the las two are the sequels to Shadow and Bone, of course!)

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