The Midnight Bargain

The carriage drew closer to Booksellers’ Row, and Beatrice Clayborn drew in a hopeful breath before she cast her spell.

The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk, Erewhon Books 2020

Sometimes when you work hard to get a book, and when it disappoints it hits even harder. Like a book (or film) has to deliver for the sole reason of me having invested in attaining it. I even e-mailed the library about this novel (gasp!).

Luckily The Midnight Bargain didn’t disappoint: far from it. I hoped for a Victorian romance with a hint of magic; I got a historical fantasy with a hint of romance.

Beatrice lives in a world where her path leads into only one direction: marriage and motherhood. Even though she’s got magic, women can’t use it and carry children as well – society made the choice for her that she will deny magic. It’s also necessary for financial reasons: her father made bad investments and a connection to a rich family is essential to prevent them from poverty.

But of course: Beatrice doesn’t want this. She wants to hold on to magic and help her family, not be sold like cattle.

Spirits, wonderful, kind heartthrobs and dastardly competition get involved – it’s all too much fun to spell it out. Well done, cute little romance/coming-of-age: you absolutely delighted me.

The Dark Gifts trilogy

  • Gilded Cage
  • Tarnished City
  • Bright Ruin

For YA, there’s a surprising amount of politics and commentary on political systems. Mostly still on a YA-level – don’t expect deep-going analyses and there’s just a hint of ‘maybe grey is the best possible option in a world of black and white’ but it was a pleasant surprise. It even kept me going through the first book after realising the author was setting up the plainest of romances.

Anyway, there’s magic users in power and not-magic users that have slavedays: ten years of their life have to be devoted to working for the country with nothing in return. Of course there are people who agree with this, who disagree with this, and those that just want to be and/or stay in power.

Two families are followed, on either side. Some are skeptical from the start, some naive, blood flows, death follows, and more and more often reality sinks in.

That sometimes it’s all a bit clunky and certain plot lines aren’t as neatly finished as they could have been might be a sign of its target audience, or just a lack of editing. Either way, it was more fun entertainment than expected. I didn’t even mind it being a trilogy.

Piranesi

When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of three Tides.

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke, Bloomsbury 2020

Susanna Clarke took her time. Years and years ago I plunged into Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and continued to recommend it to everyone the following months. When no news followed about other books, I guessed that was it: the unicorn of a solo fantasy book you could enjoy in every direction.

I was an eager beaver when I heard about Piranesi. So eager that I noticed it was much smaller than the book that had took me along for a multidimensional rollercoaster-ride. Piranesi is a novella, in e-book not even hitting the 150 page mark. Well, beggars can’t be choosers etc., and a well-written novella is even more proof of a good author.

You’re kept in the dark for a long time; not just the narrator is unreliable, everyone seems to be. Where are we, what are we, when are we? The clue doesn’t necessary ruin the eerie feeling of the story, but it does make it much more depressing. And just like with Jemisin’s The City there’s some sense of this not being fiction at all, which doesn’t make for a better feeling when closing the book.

Long story short: I still like how Clarke can surprise and influence me and my mood.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

“Oh dear,” Linus Baker said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune, Tor 2020

This was just the sweetness needed. It felt like a story that could be animated as part of another story. It’s an origin story, the entire plot a huge cliché (man goes through things, discovers that there are joys in life to be had), but it’s all done so nicely, without ever veering into the saccharine.

Also, there’s monsters.

I mean – children with abilities. Hidden away in an orphanage on an island at the end of the world and our protagonist has to make sure they are treated well. It’s what he does for a living (if you can call it living). This time he even has to keep an extra eye on the headmaster because he likes to colour outside the lines (gasp!).

TJ Klune makes it all fresh, funny and adorable because of their descriptions, characters and little jokes. You might see the ending coming closely after the beginning, but it’s such a nice ride.

Peter Darling

James Hook was bored

Peter Darling, Austin Chant, Less Than Three Press 2017

A novella about Peter Pen and Neverland and Hook being …slightly different from what you might remember. Even though it’s pretty short (142 pages in e-bookformat), it took me a while to get invested.

Looking back, it almost feels like the order of the story is the wrong way ’round: large parts of the second half might have been more suited for the introduction part of the story?

Still, the author delivers from the start with descriptions of Neverland, the horror of facing reality and gives an element that could easily become super smarmy a soft and genuine landing.

I’m ready for someone to turn this into a film, and I don’t say this very often about a story.

Trickster Drift

The clouds finally broke into a sullen drizzle after a muggy, overcast day.

Trickster Drift, Eden Robinson, Alfred A. Knopf 2018

I can’t remember the last time I was so consciously waiting for a book. I read Son of a Trickster a long while ago, so why library – why did it take you two years to get me a sequel that was written in the year I read the prequel? Rhetorical question, I don’t need an answer.

With the first novel it took me a while to adjust to the story and appreciate what I took from it. With that knowledge, I expected to struggle again this time, but get a satisfying pay-off. Except – no struggle in sight. The e-book is almost 600 pages and I flew through them. Maybe Robinson found her flow, maybe I did, but I didn’t want to stop reading.

Jared has escaped some of the wild, eerie, lethal shit that was braided through his life and surroundings, but not all of it. And now he’s adding sobriety and study to them. So even though it seems like there’s more love and care around him, we should probably give him a break when he doesn’t immediately (positively) react to it (I tried, boy – did I try).

As it been two years since I’ve read the previous book, I can’t say if this one got scarier or more gory, but gosh – there’s a fine line between things that should only be myths and our reality in Robinson’s world.

It’s deliciously eerie, and can the library please get the completing novel in soon?

The City We Became

I sing the city.

The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, Orbit 2020

I keep giving N.K. Jemisin chances, to sound delightfully dramatic. Like they care. I mostly care because on paper (heh) she’s got everything I desire, but the click continued to miss. This time the click was loud. A bit delayed, but loud all the same.

In The City We Became there’s cities that come alive and people that are cities, multiple dimensions (a bit like an onion, but maybe more like a pastry), human beings (bigotry) being the scariest enemy and oh sh- is that a Cthulhu reference?

It’s like Jemisin inhaled all that I love (close to reality, eerie as hell, new ideas with familiar roots) and coughed up this creation written so well that I was worried about this not being fiction at all. I don’t want her to be the person showing us behind the matrix.

Only downside? “This first part of a trilogy”.

Conservation of Shadows

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee, Prime Books 2020

Now that’s what I call fantasy. Or scifi. Maybe both. Either way, there is fantasy and there is science (fiction) and it’s mind boggling, eerie and beautiful (not just for linguistic and/or math enthusiasts either). Eat that, tropes.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of (short) stories previously published by the author. It’s about colonialism, wars, music, writing, reincarnation or maybe only death.

Especially the first five – six stories tickled my imagination, but even when you get used to Lee’s style and subject choice the originality stays with you.

My only complaints are that some stories deserve entire novels and that – for an e-book – it’s almost too much, too dense. Experience this relic from a future time through paper, I’d advice.

The Ninth Rain

You ask me to start at the beginning, Marin, my dear, but you do not know what you ask.

Yoohoo, traditional fantasy alert! Although.. our unlikely heroes this time are very unlikely and not all that heroic. Not yet anyway, but of course this is the first book in a series.

The Ninth Rain plays out in a pretty much post-apocalyptic world. There’s the memory of darkness and despair, but some are living through it more than others. There’s an ancient race that should have been the heroes but fell, there’s humans that – like humans do – just toil on. And then there’s a threat of things that might just come again.

Yes, there’s the burly male, the scared little young woman with more power than she can control and the eccentric bringing them all together, but they don’t fit their clichés exactly. Combine that with a luscious world building and it matters very little that this plot has been done before. You get that comforting ‘Down the fantastic rabbit hole’-feeling in return.

The Ninth Rain, Jen Williams, Headline 2017

Momo en de tijdspaarders

Lang, lang geleden, toen de mensen nog heel andere talen spraken, waren er in de warme landen al grote en prachtige steden.

Ten eerste vraag ik me af waarom Engelse titels veel meer woorden een hoofdletter geven dan Nederlandse. Toen realiseerde ik me ik dacht dat de auteur Michiel en niet Michael heette.

Tot slot sta ik er bij stil hoe kinderboeken soms betere, duidelijker boodschappen geven dan so called volwassen boeken. Het is hier simpel: wat gebeurt er als tijd letterlijk als geld wordt afgeschilderd? Er is geen ruimte meer om te leven, want dingen kunnen altijd sneller en al het ‘onnuttige’ wordt verwijderd. Inclusief plezier, liefde en rust. Steek die maar in je zak.

Daarnaast is er een vreemde eend in de bijt als hoofdpersoon om te laten zien dat het niet allemaal volgens de norm hoeft, en een grote liefde voor verhalen tellen, vrij spelen en zelf uitzoeken wat je leuk vindt, wat kan en wat mag.

Oh, en dan ook nog even een filosofische dip richting het gebied van hoe de hemel er uitziet en wat tijd voor invloed er op heeft.

Kom daar maar eens mee in een volwassen roman.

Momo en de tijdspaarders, Michael Ende, Lemniscaat 1975