Reasons for Inclusion: Black characters, trans woman protagonist, f/f romance.
Ella knows she’s a girl, but to her stepmother and stepsisters, she’s just their brother Cole, no better than a servant. And then the princess invites the family to the ball. Ella’s sisters don’t want her to go, but they can’t deny that she was personally invited. With the help of a mysterious woman with a magical talent for dressmaking, Ella outshines them all. And when she arrives at the ball, everybody accepts her as a woman without question.
This is a wonderful book, a sweet and hopeful romance full of lovable (and hateable) characters, detail both mundane and extraordinary, daily chores and beautiful dresses, love and friendship and acceptance.
And one of the best things about it, in my view, is that it’s not about gender or race. This world is black-normative, and Ella being trans doesn’t matter at all to anybody outside of her backward-minded family.
This is a wonderful tale (and a short read too!) and I highly recommend it.
Reasons for Inclusion: Ace protagonist, trans character, racially diverse cast.
After a year spent in the Halls of the Dead, the human world is too fast, too bright, too loud for Nancy to handle. Her parents don’t believe she travelled through a vanishing door to another realm, and send her to a school for troubled youth to cure her of her delusions. Or at least that’s what they think Eleanor West’s school does.
But Eleanor understands Nancy. And so do the young residents, all of whom traveled through impermanent portals to fantastic lands as children, and all of whom desperately wish to return to these worlds that lie on the compass points of Logic, Nonsense, Wicked, and Virtue.
And then people start dying, and Nancy and her companions have to figure out who the murderer is, and why, before more people die and they lose this home they’ve made at the school.
I loved the way the fairy tale mythology was woven through the story, taking hints from various sources while never feeling derivative. Many characters speak in riddles and mythological or literary allusions, lending the story a timeless feel. The philosophical and ideological conflicts between, for example, Logic and Nonsense, made for interactions that felt new and classic at the same time.
This book is very diverse as well, featuring some lesser-seen identities. Nancy is asexual, but she wants to fall in love someday, with somebody who understands. A hope that might just come to fruition when she meets fellow student Kade, who was rejected from his world when he realized he was trans.
It’s short and easy to get into, dark and atmospheric while never losing hope, and full of memorable and varied characters. I recommend it to anybody who likes twisted fairy tales or explorations of the strangeness in our world.
Reasons for Inclusion: Racially diverse cast, f/f relationship, nb character, blind character, trans characters, demi character, mental health and disability issues discussed, class issues discussed.
Daybreak Rising is one of the most anticipated books of the season in diverse fiction circles, and it’s one of the most diverse books I’ve recently read, not only in its characters but also in its landscapes and settings.
In this world, the Council rules strong, and Elementalists with magic powers are either killed or turned to the Council’s purpose. And our heroes are those who stand against them, even if they’ve failed before.
Our protagonist is a queer woman with PTSD, her girlfriend is demiromantic, a trans woman and man join in a little later on, and so does a blind woman. Their squad leader is nonbinary. And none of this is unusual or challenged.
Despite the conflict and the oppressive social structure, this is a world where queerness is accepted more often than not. Trans people get medical support from the government (even if this is often only a way for the regime to earn their loyalty), accessibility tech is commonplace, and the characters’ identities and romantic choices are rarely if ever challenged.
The cast comes from various social backgrounds, and this disparity causes tension at times, but they figure out to work together and they don’t need to be taught to appreciate each other’s point of view.
The vibrant worldbuilding deserves special mention. The characters come from and travel to many different countries and regions, all with varying climate, geography, religion, race, language, even food. All the details that make a world live and breathe: the smells of Kayvun’s seaside home, the silent religion of Basau, countless other little things, nothing is overlooked.
This attention to details comes through especially well in the sections from Kayvun’s point of view. Kayvun is blind, and so her parts of the story are brimming with tactile and auditory detail. She makes use of accessibility tech built into the base camp’s systems, a memorable example being serving dishes that announce the ingredients of the food being served.
These characters deal with both larger political and social issues and smaller personal issues: getting along in tight quarters and stressful circumstances, minor and major romantic entanglements, doubt and confusion, family issues, and the trauma that comes with war and oppression.
As in life, interactions can be uncomfortable and raw. Tempers fray in stressful situations. Celosia’s panic attacks become more frequent as situations come close to her past experiences. People make mistakes, offend others. People are forced to choose between their morals and their goals. But they keep on going, working towards freedom.
On the critical side, I found the writing style awkward at times, especially when something was explained directly that could have been implied or shown. Characters were frequently referenced by awkward epithets that I hope get cut in the final edition. At times the villains didn’t seem to have much of a motivation besides being something for our heroes to oppose. But those are mostly personal qualms, and other readers might see differently.
If you’re looking for a diverse ensemble cast, a fight for justice over oppression, and the coexistence of magic and technology, read Daybreak Rising.
(I’ve written a review for the series as a whole here: https://allourworlds.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/series-temeraire/ )
League of Dragons makes a worthy end to the Temeraire series. It takes a lot of skill to bring the threads of nine books to a satisfying conclusion, and Novik pulls it off very well here.
The early books are still my favorites; I preferred the focus on interpersonal interactions and world travel to the battles and military strategy. (And the endless wandering through Australia.) But there’s a lot in League of Dragons that was worth the wait: meeting Temeraire and Iskierka’s dragonet, the return of math-loving Perscetia, and of course the long-awaited end to the Napoleonic wars.
This book focuses far more on political and military strategy than the previous ones, which though sometimes a little dry, only makes sense considering the situation. Laurence and Temeraire and their allies fight for dragon civil rights at the same time that they plan their campaign against Napoleon’s forces. There’s no other way to do it. In scenes reminiscent of Victory of Eagles, the dragons fighting for Britain rightly demand to be be paid, and to have a say in the governing of the country they defend.
The world of Temeraire doesn’t just include dragons and Englishmen, and there are global powers involved from far beyond Europe. And that’s one of my favorite things about the series: its global scale. The planet isn’t a playground for imperialists, and no nation can afford to dismiss another as insignificant. Temeraire and Laurence have traveled to Asia, to Africa, to South America. And now more than ever, all of those people and factions matter. There are the Turkish ferals, the long-respected Chinese dragons, the Tswana seeing vengeance and recompense from Portuguese slavers, the unconquered Incans, all taking sides in the war.
The question is, does Napoleon offer a better deal? He has built his cities to accommodate dragons, and now he offers them their own nations- far more than any European power has ever done.
Britain must wake to the knowledge that they can’t afford to subjugate dragons any longer.
At the end of all this, I’m left to wonder about the future of this complex, diverse alternate world. And that is the mark of a good story: a world that lives on after the last page.
(Copy received through Netgalley)
Reasons for Inclusion: Queer WoC lead, multiple countries and cultures, F/F relationship
All Andín dal Rovi wants is to study at the University in the capital. She finally gets to the city- but as a demon-possessed outcast. And then she is exiled from her country, her home, everything she’s ever known. The only thing she can do is keep moving, hoping somebody can take the demon out of her mind.
The complexity of her world is evident very early on. The first thing Andín sees in the city is a famous women’s rights speaker arrested by Imperial police. The characters see race, class, and gender issues in different forms in different places.
Social unrest is not the only issue her world is facing. Patches of void are appearing at random, indiscriminately swallowing parts of the world, and nobody knows why or how.
The book does a very good job of illustrating the effects of empire, immigration, social upheaval, and (super)natural disasters on a world of many countries and peoples. The countries are both distinct in culture and blended by centuries of empire and immigration. Politics is not the main focus of the story, but it is of crucial importance to the world. Like the rest of the worldbuilding, it fits naturally into the world both as background detail and a relevant driving force for characters.
I especially liked the character development. Andín starts her tale young and hopeful, surrounded by family but limited by society, and through her travel and association with the demon, becomes powerful and experienced, but very often alone.
The loneliness of travel makes Andín’s interactions with the women she meets along her journey all the more important.
Though friends are few and far between, they are indispensable. Andín meets Yshe, a diplomat’s wife who accepts Andín in all her strangeness; Lynde, tasked with returning the magic sword of legendary hero Judy Shashalnikya; and Vi, a sorceress who might be able to help her find an answer.
And then there’s the demon- the arrogant, cruel spirit who has possessed every Emperor for millennia. At first, Andín and the demon want nothing more than to be separated, but as time goes on, they learn from each other, become accustomed to one another, and learn the other is more complicated than they expected.
I recommend The Demon Girl’s Song for the richness of characters, worldbuilding, and the growth of both.
(I received an ARC)
Reasons for Inclusion: Blind protagonist. Her Japanese doctor is a viewpoint character for a few scenes. Subplot set in China
It was an intriguing book, and more about discovery than about domination, and emotionally hopeful in a way that hearkened back to Classic SF. The protagonist, Caitlin Decter, is a 15-year-old blind girl who’s just moved to Canada, and receives a chance for an operation that may let her see. When the implant doesn’t work at first, she is given the Jagster datastream piped into it, and thus can “see” the Internet.
I liked the way Caitlin’s blindness informed the book – not merely the whole “she can’t see and here are her accessibility technologies” bit, but her knowledge of Helen Keller colors her interactions and attitudes towards lifeforms.
The book talks a bit on the statistical methods that are relevant for the data analysis done, as well as on sentience and minds, which is the focus. Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is built upon, as are Helen Keller’s life’s works.
All in all, it’s a refreshingly optimistic book, with a hopeful, awe-inspiring end.
Reasons for Inclusion: Chinese inspired setting, multiple races and cultures, class issues discussed, imperialism/oppression is a major theme.
Outside a city that has been conquered over and over again, leaving it with too many names to count, a son of the current occupying forces learns to fight. On a trip into the city, he meets a street girl, one of the people who have lived in the city over the course of countless regimes. Rat reluctantly agrees to teach him the ways of the city. And slowly, both of them learn that the situation is far more complicated than either had thought.
This was absolutely amazing. The art was outstanding, capturing the setting, characters, and action in beautiful detail. I’m definitely going to buy this when it comes out, and I know a lot of other people who will love it too.
I loved the politics. Kai and Rat start off with the black-and-white views to be expected of children: Kai sees his people, the Dao, as military geniuses who protect the city from chaos, and Rat sees them as wicked oppressors. But Kai is uncomfortable with the hateful words he hears from some of the Dao, and Rat sees that Kai respects her people and doesn’t deserve to be hated.
This isn’t the sort of situation that can be fixed with a violent rebellion, not with dozens of other nations vying for control.
There’s a scene I felt was particularly interesting, where a rebel interrupts a festival to call for violent protest, and is attacked by soldiers. It’s clear that not only are the soldiers wrong to attack him, but that his strategy, well-meaning as it is, isn’t really the right way either.
So it’s left to Kai and Rat, with the help of their mentors, to find a way to bring peace to the city and expose the plots that would turn it to violence.
Reading this, I was reminding faintly of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Nameless City had the same political complexity, diversity in cultures, and fun, active characters. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy!
(Review copy from Netgalley)