Before I took off for ten days in New York City, I loaded up my trusty e-readers with offerings from Book View Café writers, then picked books at random. What a delight they were!
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Alfreda” novels – Night Calls and Kindred Rites. I’d enjoyed Kimbriel’s “Nuala” science fiction novels and looked forward to her Young Adult series. Set in an alternate, magical American frontier, these coming-of-age stories are told in such a powerful, distinctive voice and with such rich world-building, they drew me in from the very first paragraphs. Adolescent Alfreda comes from line of psychically gifted people, which in itself doesn’t sound very original. Her personality, her family, and her world, however, mark these stories as among the very best. I loved the relationships between Alfreda and her parents and brothers, her townsfolk neighbors, but most of all, the natural world – the tangle of forest and harsh weather, wild animals and supernatural entities – ghosts, werewolves, witches, and more. All too often, the characters in fantasy tales are orphaned or in some way disconnected from their families. In Kimbriel’s work, however, Alfreda’s family of loving, contentious, beautifully-drawn people, give her the strength and context to face her magical calling. I loved how competent Alfreda is, not only in the domestic chores expected of any young woman in that age and place, but in wilderness survival. Kimbriel’s writing is so smooth, the dramatic tension so finely handled, that I was caught on the very first pages.
I adored Doranna Durgin’s Dun Lady’s Jess when it first came out – a horse magically transformed into a young woman? How could the horse-lover in me resist? So I decided to treat myself by reading all the “before and after” novels in sequence. The first one, Barrenlands, stands wonderfully on its own, and is a great introduction to Durgin’s world and its characters. A royal assassination, plots and twists, spies and psychics, a caravan making its way through magic-blasted landscape and oh, yes, some absolutely splendid horses that are characters in their own rights! Next I’ll re-read Dun Lady’s Jess and proceed from there. Read along with me?
I’m usually not much for military fiction, science-fictional or otherwise, so I have to confess I didn’t dive into The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata as soon as it came out, although I’ve been a fan of her work since her debut. I’m sorry I waited! On the surface, the story involves a nightmarish “endless war” with pharmacologically-manipulated soldiers, carefully circumscribed fighting, and defense contractors keeping the whole thing going in order to jack up their profits. This is not exactly a hopeful or humanistic scenario, but Nagata keeps twisting plot and expectations in amazing ways. Her viewpoint character has secrets of his own, told in a compelling and sympathetic voice. There are no simple answers here, as in real life. And as in real life, Nagata reminds us of the importance of human relationships, integrity, and honor – treated in an extraordinarily intelligent, compassionate manner. Even if you “never read military science fiction,” check this one out.
Short fiction is great for traveling because of the many instances where it’s nice to be able to finish an entire story in one sitting.
Nancy Jane Moore’s Conscientious Inconsistencies filled the bill perfectly. Her work is funny, touching, smart, and eminently readable. I enjoyed the variety – she kept surprising me with what came next, which is a good thing. Like biting into a chocolate without consulting the descriptions. Ooh, this one’s salt water taffy, this one’s raspberry liqueur, this one’s sesame crunch! I’d be hard-pressed to name a favorite, but “Thirty-One Rules for Fulfilling Your Destiny” comes close. Moore has a second collection, Walking Contradiction, that’s on my TBR pile.