- Magic from the Mothership: January 2018
Welcome to Magic from the Mothership! In this new monthly column, Bookmarked editors Christa and Paige search for great new science fiction/fantasy books and describe the ones most worth highlighting. If you’re a fan of SFF, this list is the perfect resource for books you won’t want to miss.
Despite 2018 just beginning, January is already jam-packed with superheroes, boarding school mysteries, queer relationships, neocolonialism, and Iraqi retellings of Frankenstein. We also take a quick trip back to 2017 to briefly discuss an excellent autobiographical anthology by Ursula Le Guin, one of the most influential SFF writers in the literary canon. Check out our list below of reading highlights for this month, and fall in love with a new book for the new year!
January 2018 Highlights
Random House Books for Young Readers
January 2, 2018
Full disclosure, dear readers; this editor is a huge comic book nerd, and Batman has always been a favorite superhero of mine. Despite the doom and gloom inherent in his vigilante lifestyle, I’ve always found it inspiring that this character transformed a significant tragedy in his life into a source of hope for other people. The years leading up to the formation of Batman are rich in narrative potential, and Batman: Nightcrawler is the perfect literary exploration of this development. Not only is the young Bruce Wayne enveloped in a thrilling murder mystery that tests the validity of his maturing morals, but Marie Lu brings in her intricate writing style and commitment to characterization for which she is well-known. Lu shined in 2017 with the September release of Warcross, and it is incredible that she is starting the new year with another strong young adult novel. Here’s to more success in 2018 to my two favorite superheroes!
Sky Pony Press
January 2, 2018
Tara Sim dazzled fantasy fans with her 2016 novel Timekeeper, a unique take on Victorian Europe where time is controlled by clock towers and the magical mechanics tasked with their protection. Mechanic Danny Hart is our guide into this beautifully developed world and, for the most part, his days are spent juggling complicated familial relationships and exploring a budding romance with his mysterious new beau Colton. But in this sequel novel, Danny is whisked off to India to solve a string of clock tower attacks – and potentially help dismantle the British Empire’s oppressive colonial control in the region. Sim continues to offer an action-packed adventure for her lovely queer couple, but Chainbreaker features a particularly vivid environment and dynamic new characters thanks to the author’s personal cultural experiences.
The Forgotten Book
Feiwel & Friends
January 2, 2018
While attending the famed Schloss Stolzenburg boarding school in Germany, three friends, Emma, Charlotte, and Hannah find a magical book. At first, it looks like an old diary or history of the school, but they soon realize that whatever they write in the book will come true. At the same time, a mysterious older boy, Darcy, turns up at the school looking for answers about his sister, Gina, who went missing years earlier. Is it a coincidence? Or does Gina’s disappearance have something to do with the old book? If I hear about a fantasy novel set at a boarding school, I will immediately add it to my to-read list. You can blame Harry Potter for that. And The Forgotten Book really did make me think of Harry Potter. Not just the boarding school setting, but the camaraderie between the three girls. But that’s where most of the similarities end. In fact, The Forgotten Book is more Jane Austen-inspired than Harry Potter. Emma and Darcy’s relationship resembles that of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and there are numerous other Austen references sprinkled throughout. The Forgotten Book is a lighter fantasy read, but I thoroughly enjoyed curling up and getting lost in the adventure, the romance, and the mystery.
A Conspiracy of Stars
Olivia A. Cole
Katherine Tegen Books
January 2, 2018
It’s only January but I feel confident that A Conspiracy of Stars will end up being one of my favourite science fiction novels of the year. It’s about a young girl, Octavia, who lives on the planet Faloiv. Her grandmother and parents helped settled the colony on the planet and set up N’Terra, a laboratory where they can live and study the native plants and animals in order to advance their own technology and survive on their new home. This is one of those novels you want to set aside time to sink into. At the beginning, Cole takes her time to slowly build layers onto the world and into the characters so much so that it really begins to feel like a real place that you’re visiting. But once the scene is set, the real mystery and adventure take over and you’ll have a hard time tearing yourself away from the page. Featuring a diverse cast and tackling issues like colonialism and the ethical dimension of scientific research, A Conspiracy of Stars would be the ideal read for fans of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer and The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian.
Frankenstein in Baghdad
January 23, 2018
Frankenstein in Baghdad comes to us in translation, after being written a few short years after the Arab Spring. As such, wartime violence and frenetic political energy are palpable influences in Saadawi’s award-winning novel, uniquely explored through a reinterpretation of Mary Shelley’s famous tale. Our innovative creator is Hadi al-Attag, who sweeps through the recently bombed areas of his city to collect the remains of his neighbors. While Hadi’s goal is the creation of a protest presentation for the government, so that they recognize the human toll of their decisions and give these victims a proper burial, everything changes when his presentation somehow comes to life. The reanimated corpse also wants justice, but its plans involve a much bloodier approach. Not only is this novel wildly entertaining, but Saadawi captures modern Iraq with all the horror, darkly witty humor, and respect that it deserves.
Reign of the Fallen
Sarah Glenn Marsh
January 23, 2018
There’s a certain thematic renaissance occurring in the young adult fantasy world, one filled with kings and queens, political intrigue, deadly young women, and dark supernatural secrets that threaten the sanctity of the entire kingdom. Sarah Glenn Marsh adds her contribution to this time-honored tradition with Reign of the Fallen, where the kingdom of Karthia runs smoothly thanks to its ruling class of resurrected nobles. Main character Odessa is tasked with their maintenance, for if these dead nobles are exposed to the sun they transform into bloodthirsty monsters. She soon discovers a plot in motion to purposely transform the nobles, as is often the case when magic and political unrest intermingle, and thus she must band together with other necromancers to stop the impending violence. With a unique mythology and a breathtaking queer romance, we’re definitely looking forward to this novel later this month.
The Sky is Yours
Chandler Klang Smith
January 23, 2018
Way back in 2014 I wrote about Smith’s first novel, Goldenland Past Dark, a strange and creepy novel about a traveling circus that I recommend for fans of American Horror Story: Freakshow. When I heard about her next novel, The Sky is Yours, about a burned-out, futuristic city plagued by dragons, I assumed I was in for something equally strange and bizarre. And I wasn’t wrong. Part dystopian, part fantasy, and part cyberpunk, this novel is a feast for the senses. The world building is so detailed, so complete, that you will feel like you can see, hear, touch and even smell every scene. The characters are unique as well, though not all as appealing as you might expect. In fact, some are quite annoying/distasteful (especially the former reality star Duncan Humphrey Ripple V). But distasteful though they may be, you can’t help reading on to find what obstacle the story will throw at them next and who they might turn out to be when, or if, they survive.
“In Case You Missed It Last Month…”
No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters
Ursula Le Guin
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
December 5, 2017
As we happily move towards the undiscovered literary wonders that 2018 has in store, it’s always good to look back and reflect on the important authors who have shaped our personal reading tastes and the publishing world at large. For many of us, one of those influential powerhouses was Ursula Le Guin. She revolutionized the science fiction genre in the 1960s and 1970s with novels including The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and several additions to her literary Hainish Cycle. Now in her twilight years, she looks back on her life and career in this anthology of articles, personal essays, and blog posts. For longtime fans, it’s a humbling experience to be welcomed into the mind of such a great creator. For less familiar readers, stumbling upon Le Guin for the first time, this will surely be a taste that will inspire you to seek Le Guin out for the rest of your life.