Carrying on the tradition I started in the spring wherein I read books actually published in this calendar year (*gasp*) and recommend them before the end of said calendar year so other folks might also have time to read them (*gasp*) I bring you several new books I’ve read and enjoyed this fall. If you’re curious as to what I read and enjoyed in the spring and the summer, you can find those posts here and here.
Letters to Zell by Camille Griep wasn’t even on my radar until a friend lent it to me. It ended up being one of those books that took me completely off guard with how much I enjoyed it. I love fairy tale re-tellings, but sometimes the genre feels a little stale. I was fully prepared for an ‘okay that’s cute, I see what you did there’ take on fairy tale characters, but Letters to Zell is filled with genuine emotion, and it’s not always pleasant emotion either. As the title implies, it’s an epistolary novel with Cinderella (CeCi), Snow White (Bianca), and Briar Rose (Rory), writing to Rapunzel (Zell), about their day-to-day lives now that Zell has moved away. The classic fairy tales form the jumping off point for their stories, but once each character finishes their ‘Pages’, they’re free to live out the rest of her lives however they choose. Any deviation from one’s Pages (i.e. fate) could destroy the known Grimm world. As the story opens, Bianca has yet to finish her Pages, and she’s dragging her feet. She’s not super keen on the idea of marriage, and she resents the need to punish her stepmother just because her story says so. As for CeCi, she’s happy and in love with her prince, but not keen on the queen thing either. She and her husband have no interest in children, and her real passion in life is to become a chef. Rory, meanwhile, is trying to do the best to want she’s been told is her destiny. Long ago, her true love almost destroyed the world by trying to steal her Pages and set her free. He was banished from the realm, and she was put to sleep to save her life. Now she’s stuck with a husband who has no interest in her, is desperate for a child she can’t seem to conceive, and doesn’t really know where she fits in the world. All of this serves as the backdrop for a story of true and deep friendship. Female friendship in particular is often neglected in fiction – both written and filmed. We have the term bromance, but no feminine equivalent. Again and again we see stories featuring a lone exceptional female, or if there’s more than one woman, they’re either bitter rivals constantly at each others’ throats, never talk to each other, or only talk about their relationships with men. In Letters to Zell, Griep gives us a strong female friendship that is far from smooth, but feels all the more real because of it. Each character is fully developed, true to her own wants and desires, but with deep love and loyalty to the others. They misunderstand each other. They work at cross-purposes occasionally. They fight, but the love never goes away. Griep also gives us a novel with a full and satisfying arc for each of her main characters. CeCi, Bianca, and Rory all grow over the course of the story. It’s sweet at times, and heartbreaking at others. Despite the fairy tale setting, each character feels like someone you might meet in the real world, and someone you want to root for even when you don’t agree with all their choices. Just like a friend.
Fall and Rising by Sunny Moraine is the sequel to Line and Orbit (co-authored with Lisa Soem), picking up the threads of the first novel and evolving them. In a way, it’s a more mature novel in its themes – not in terms of racy content, though it is a kissing book – but in the way it delves into choices and the consequences of those choices. The characters are dealing with the aftermath of a major battle, trying to cope with their trauma even as they’re facing a new threat. They’re dealing with loss at the same time as they’re simply trying to stay alive. As with Line and Orbit, romance and relationships are a major part of the novel, woven in-between the battles, desperate escapes, and daring fights. Fall and Rising tackles the natural evolution of Adam and Lochlan’s budding relationship from Line and Orbit. After the first heady days of a romance born in the midst of fleeing for their lives, they’re coming to learn more about each other, and learning to live with each other. They’re still fleeing for their lives, and at the same time, dealing with the difference in their cultures, figuring out who they are in relation to each other, and who they ultimately want to be within themselves. They’re learning who they are apart and together, how they strengthen each other, and where they’ll have to compromise to make things work. Love factors into the novel in other ways as well – the deep love of friendship, love for one’s people as opposed to the love of a specific person, and the ways love can tear you apart. The characters are faced with hard choices throughout the novel; they’re called on to make great sacrifices, and it’s wrenching to watch. The final scenes of the book especially are heart-hurting in the very best of ways. As always, Moraine’s prose is stunning, proving that a work can have it all – action, adventure, romance, strong characters, and gorgeous writing. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.
Last, but not least, is Fran Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft, which I’ve been looking forward to since it was first announced. The worldbuilding in the novel is absolutely stunning, and while it’s far from the only striking thing about the book, it is likely one of the first things that’ll grab you. Wilde plunges (or perhaps lifts) the reader into a city of living bone high above the clouds, introducing them to a society that travels by wing. The city with its tiered towers is lovingly described, and its structure also lends its shape to the nature of the book, its layers of meaning. For instance, the bridges strung between bone towers are a sign of favor; they strengthen towers both in terms of political position and literally – bracing them against the natural forces of gravity. The world of Updraft is one that begs to be explored. There are sung laws, mouths in the sky, and secrets deep in the city’s heart. Against this backdrop, Wilde tells the story of Kirit, a young woman earning her right to fly, her right to speak, and fighting to save her city, her family, and her friends. There are two sides to every story, and as Updraft progresses, Kirit must cope with the fact that the history she’s been taught all her life is only part of the picture. Through all the alliances and shifting truths she must navigate, Kirit remains fierce and loyal and determined. But while at her core Kirit remains true to herself, she grows immensely as well, and the world around her is irrevocably changed. Without giving too much away, I particularly appreciate the way Updraft isn’t afraid to shatter the natural order of its society. Many fantasy novels are about trying to ‘set things right’ – to restore the rightful ruler, lift the curse, put things back the way they were before. Updraft is a novel of revolution. The characters actions truly impact the world, and by the time the novel is done, it’s clear that nothing will ever be the same again and they will have to live with the consequences. It’s a fascinating novel on many levels, blending characters, politics, economics, engineering, and action, and the descriptions of flight are absolutely stunning. As with Fall and Rising, I’m already looking forward to Updraft’s sequel.