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Posts Tagged ‘Rivers of London’

Once upon a time. . . Those are storytelling’s magic words. And when novelist Diane Setterfield drops them in the Thames, than you get Once Upon a River (Atria, digital galley), and it’s magic, too.  On a midwinter night at the Swan Inn, the storytellers are surprised when a battered stranger bursts through the door holding the drowned body of a little girl. But a sad scene turns wondrous when the child lives, although she cannot speak her name. As news of this miracle spreads, several people arrive at the inn to claim her as their own. Lily White, the parson’s odd housekeeper, declares she is her little sister Ann. Farmer Robert Armstrong thinks she is his grandchild Alice, daughter of his runaway son. And Helena and Anthony Vaughan hope she is their kidnapped child Amelia. Setterfield, who vaulted to fame a decade ago with The Thirteenth Tale, again casts a spell as her stories spill and overlap, flowing like the river that connects them. There are twists and turns, swirls and eddies, unexpected depths and a ghostly ferryman known as Quietly. Don’t miss the boat.

C’est magnifique! How else to describe the world-building in Christine Dabos’ A Winter’s Promise (Europa, digital galley)? The glittering first entry in The Mirror Visitor Quartet, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, features castles in the air, palace intrigue, magic aplenty. Ophelia and her family live on isolated Amina, one of the floating celestial islands called arks created after the great Rupture split the world into shards. Individual ancestral spirits determine the customs of each ark, which is why Ophelia is surprised when Amina’s matriarchs arrange her betrothal to a stranger from the faraway icy ark called the Pole. Living with her enigmatic fiance Thorn’s treacherous kin in Citiceleste, Ophelia, who can read the history of objects by touch, also calls on her ability to travel through mirrors to understand the complex politics of the Pole. Is she just a pawn, or can she become a heroine? The next book arrives in the spring.

I wondered where time-traveling librarian Irene Winters would land next after enjoying her Jazz Age New York adventures in The Lost Plot, the fourth entry in Genevieve Cogman’s rousing The Invisible Library series. The answer is 1890s Paris, where the chaos-causing Fae and the order-imposing Dragons — both of whom can assume human form — are holding a peace conference with representatives of the Library as mediators. When an important Dragon is stabbed to death in The Mortal Word (Berkley, digital galley), the Library calls on Irene and Vale the detective to investigate, along with Irene’s former assistant Kai, son of a Dragon king, and Silver, the seductive Fae lord. The Fae and the Dragons not only suspect each other, they also suspect the Library of treachery — and they may be right. Then again, there are anarchists hiding out in the sewers and possessed cats patrolling the streets. Action-packed and atmospheric, with a little romance to boot, this may be my favorite entry so far.

Ben Aaronovitch’s urban fantasy series, Rivers of London, just keeps getting better, although newcomers might want to sample the earlier books before diving into Lies Sleeping (DAW, digital galley). Police officer and apprentice wizard Peter Grant goes up against an old enemy, the Faceless Man II, who is conspiring with Peter’s former colleague Lesley May to wreak havoc on London by digging up magical artifacts. Anybody seen Excalibur? The plot is complicated, the writing is witty and the history fascinating. A ripping good yarn.

Now for something completely different, The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel (Penguin, digital galley). I know, I know, you’re not into talking cats. But Nana, a crooked-tail stray, proves to be a winning narrator as he recounts an unusual road trip with Saturo, the young man who rescued him after he was hit by a car. Nana and Saturo travel through the Japanese countryside in a silver van to visit several of Saturo’s old school friends and their pets, but Saturo has a secret agenda. You might guess what it is before Nana, but you’ll still want to see how all is resolved. Sweet and bittersweet.

 

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magicland“Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to be someplace else.”

That was President Barack Obama talking recently to The New York Times about what books mean to him. He reads widely, both fiction and nonfiction, for all the usual reasons: information, enlightenment, connection, comfort. “And then there has been the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head.” Hence, fiction.

I am so there these days about being someplace else. And I don’t just want fictional, I want fantastical. Narnia. Middle Earth. Camelot. Fillory. The latter is found in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy and is sort of a mash-up of those famous magical kingdoms and other classic fairy-tale realms. The second season of the TV adaptation of the books begins airing tonight on the SyFy Channel, so I recently reread the third book, The Magician’s Land, to get ready. I’m not sure it will make any difference. The TV series is itself a stylish if choppy mash-up of Grossman’s books, changing some characters and events. The first season was disconcerting at times, but I still liked it. Fillory forever!

bearIf you’re looking for deep-winter magic, Katherine Arden’s richly imagined first novel The Bear and the Nightingale (Random House, digital galley) is all once-upon-a-time in medieval Russia, where a spirited heroine embraces the old myths. Vasya Petrovna, whose mother died at her birth, defies custom, her stepmother and a young priest so as to save her village, which has turned its back on the traditional spirits of the house and woodlands. Arden casts a spell with her lyrical writing, evoking Russian fairy tales and folklore, putting her own spin on the chilling story of the blue-eyed demon Frost.

wintersongS. Jae Jones sets her first YA novel, Wintersong (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley) in 19th-century Bavaria, drawing on German legend, Greek myth and Christina Rossetti’s famous poem “Goblin Market.”  It’s narrated by 19-year-old Elisabeth, the innkeeper’s eldest daughter, who has always looked after her younger siblings, including a musically talented brother and a beautiful, foolish sister. When the mysterious Goblin King chooses the sister for his bride, Elisabeth, who is strongly attracted to the eldritch stranger and who composes music, sets out to rescue her. Read the book as a fairy tale or as romantic fantasy, but by all means go back and reread Rossetti’s poem, still as irresistible as the luscious apples and quinces hawked by the goblin men.

hangingPerhaps urban fantasy is more to your liking, in which case you probably know Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series. Like its predecessors, The Hanging Tree (DAW, digital galley) is another wild and witty paranormal police procedural. Police officer and junior wizard Peter Grant and his mentor Nightingale investigate the overdose of a teenage girl, who may have been practicing illegal magic. The case swiftly involves them in the lives of the river goddess Lady Tyburn and her extended family, as the villainous Faceless Man has returned. This is the sixth book in the series, and it’s rife with references to current pop culture and past books. Aaronovitch, a screenwriter for Doctor Who, neatly straddles the real and unreal worlds. More, please.

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