Reading Round-up: Jan-Mar

The books/stories in this list are those I thoroughly enjoyed these past few months.

Novels

1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
If you’ve been paying attention in the book world for the past six months, then you’re probably familiar with this book. It’s everywhere! Regardless, it sat for a while on my TBR and I kept meaning to get to it. But when I saw it shortlisted for the Nebula, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Friends, I kid you not: it is worth all the fuss.

Alix has a way with words which is lyrical, magical and very much fable-esque (which is absolutely my jam). In fact, this is one of the many reasons this book works so well. I don’t think it could have been written in any other style and done a good job of transporting the reader into the story. On many levels this book reminded me of Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer (which I also reviewed gushed about here), from the writing, down to the characters – especially the characters.

This is portal fantasy, with all the magic of doors, the written word, and love in all the ways it is (and isn’t) expressed.

I could say this book is about how one girl’s effort to connect with her father leads her down a rabbit hole (read: Doors) of secret societies and immortal beings flitting through worlds with all the nonchalance of cats and I would be right. But it’s also the story about her parents and the hope they cling on to in the face of overwhelming hopelessness.

2. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
My introduction into horror literature was through Stephen King (there’s no escaping the King!) back when I was thirteen, and I promptly spent the subsequent years of my life devouring his back catalogue. But recently I’ve been wanting to branch out, explore what other new voices there are in the genre, and my quest lead me to this gem.

In this fine modern horror piece, Paul turns a home invasion (which is in and of itself horrific) into something bordering on madness. A vacation by a family of three quickly turns into a nightmare when they are invaded by four assailants fanatics(?) bearing crudely-made, hellish-looking weapons. Fanatics are scary not because of their unwavering conviction in their beliefs (note that this does not always have to be religion) but the lengths they’re willing to go to convince you, or force you to their side, and these people do go to some extreme lengths (whatever you’re thinking, it’s not it). Even more heart-wrenching are the sacrifices the victims have to face as they slowly realize that this shit is serious. And when the ball drops, you shudder with horror because you realize: it could happen to you.

Mr. Tremblay raises several disturbing questions which he doesn’t attempt to answer; he gifts you, instead, with a window into the heads of each character, including the antagonists, so that you are forced to answer these questions yourselves. A fantastic read.

3. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
One word: mind-bending. Have you ever felt new neural pathways forming in your brain? Because that’s what happened to me as I read this book. It is science fiction in every sense of the genre. What initially seems like classic space opera, complete with a dying earth, and the last vestiges of humanity searching for a habitable planet, quickly becomes a masterpiece of creation, evolution, survival, and a philosophical exploration of what happens when a human mind welds with an electronic construct and lives for so long that it is no longer human.

4. The Hunger by Alma Katsu
Most Americans are familiar with the tale of the unfortunate Donner Party, back in the days of the great American expansion. I’m not American so I wasn’t, not until a few months ago when I caught an Infographics Show about it on Youtube. So when I read the blurb for this book, and saw that Miss Katsu was addressing this but with a horror spin, I was immediately intrigued.

We follow several characters on this doomed journey through the harsh plains of the Wild West. This book has the feel of a sunny day which slowly turns overcast before devolving into a hellish downpour of rain. The book does not waste time in establishing the main horror: there is something haunting their trail. And when children start to vanish one by one, the cracks start to show up. Worse is when the weather turns harsh and the people start to starve and we see that for all of humanity’s supposed “civilization” we quickly turn to animals when starved, scared and desperate, and Miss Katsu does a damn fine job of documenting this – several times I had to remind myself I was reading fiction. But then, who’s to say this isn’t what actually happened?

5. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
The title of this iconic revenge novel by Mr. Abercrombie is taken from that famous, if not cliched quote by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” And boy, is that dish served really well here.

We follow a host of characters in this book, but they all are in one way or the other pawns used in Monzecarro’s quest to avenge a very awful grievance. She’s been wronged, you see, betrayed by a man she gave her all for, a man she won kingdoms for, and she will do anything to make him pay. It’s quite the irony when she recruits her former mentor to aid her in her quest for revenge – a man who she herself betrayed! But this is grimdark and there are no high horses here. Only desperate vagabonds in tough situations. Desperate vagabonds with long memories.

Through his unparalleled stellar characterization and snappy dialogue, Mr. Abercrombie takes a tired revenge plot and brings it to life. His characters, for all that they’re cold bastards, are bastards you want to know, and maybe sit down and have a drink with, but be careful with that drink – someone might have sprinkled in some additives.


Short Fiction

Things Boys Do by ‘Pemi Aguda

A Study in Shadows by Benjamin Percy

Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa by Dare Segun Falowo

Flashlight Man by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

Rat and Finch are Friends by Innocent Chizaram Ilo

The Sycamore and the Sybil by Alix E. Harrow

The Mermaid Astronaut by Yoon Han Lee

The Ordeal by M. Bernado

Giant Steps by Russel Nichols

Thoughts? Please feel free to share!

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