Patrick deWitt is gaining a reputation as a risk-taking young author, cleverly parodying a different genre with each new work. Undermajordomo Minor is an old-world kind of folk tale at first glance, but readers will soon be delighted by how the author toys with our expectations in the vein of Monty Python and the Holy Grail or The Princess Bride. Having made the comparison, it is necessary to add that deWitt is in a category completely to himself and unlike anything I have come across. His humor is quirky, pitch black and surprisingly thoughtful.
Lucy Minor is sickly and near death when he is visited by a mysterious stranger who spares his life after the young man admits he just wants something to happen to him before he dies.
Since he isn’t liked much by anyone in his village, including his mother, he sets off to find his fortune working as the undermajordomo at a far off castle. Thus begins an epic tale of romance, adventure and intrigue in a somewhat fairy tale setting. There is a castle, some loveable thieves, a crazy baron, a damsel in distress. However, there is also a train. So, expect the unexpected at any given moment.
From the moment his life is spared, Lucy’s life begins to careen down the most unexpected paths. Before his first day of work at the castle, he gets tremendously drunk with a couple of pickpockets he met on the train and falls helplessly in love with the daughter of one. Unfortunately, Klara is engaged to a devastatingly handsome soldier. His new boss, the majordomo, refuses to reveal exactly what Lucy’s job is or when he might be paid. When his job is in jeopardy, Lucy takes it upon himself to intercede on behalf of the Baron in his bizarre pursuit of his own wife, the Baroness.
In each strange, new situation readers revel in observing these delightfully weird characters interact with one another. The book is fast paced and compulsively readable.
Did you ever wonder if anyone else went down the rabbit hole like Alice did 150 years ago? Was anyone looking for her on that summer day? If so, your next must read has to be After Alice by Gregory Maguire, the story of another girl’s journey through Wonderland and the subsequent search for her and Alice above ground.
Told in two parts, Maguire first introduces us to Ada, Alice’s friend who is mentioned briefly at the beginning of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. She is the opposite of Alice. Stricken with severe scoliosis, she walks with a limp, has poor color and is not fanciful in the least. While looking for Alice along the riverbank, she comes upon the strange rabbit hole and down she goes! Just steps behind Alice, Ada encounters many of the curious characters familiar to us all – definitely a highlight for us readers! But will she find Alice in this strange underworld where everything is not as it seems? Will she make it home safely? Meanwhile, above ground, two people are searching for Alice and Ada that day: Lydia, Alice’s 15-year-old sister, and Miss Armstrong, Ada’s governess. The second part of the story deals mainly with their adventures. Their search leads us through the town of Oxford, the University and to both Alice’s and Ada’s homes. Mirroring the journey through Wonderland, they encounter many curious characters including Charles Darwin and Siam, a former slave who escaped via the Underground Railroad.
Take the time to get to know Ada, Lydia and Miss Armstrong. Join them on that summer’s day in Oxford. You will come away with a newfound understanding and love for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. You may also want to read (or reread) it. Trust me, it gets better each time! Other novels by Maguire worth a look are Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, my personal favorite! I also suggest checking out Gregory Maguire’s October 25th interview with NPR, which is both entertaining and insightful.
Robin Hobb has spent two decades building up to the events of Fool’s Quest, beginning in 1996 with the introduction of the bastard FitzChivalry Farseer in Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in the Farseer trilogy. All of Hobb’s intricate world building and delicate web spinning has led to this dark-tinged tale, the second in her Fitz and the Fool series.
Long after Fitz has gone from unacknowledged pseudo-heir to the throne to unacknowledged and invisible hero of the realm many times over, he retires to live out a happy life with his new family. He has a wife he can love out in public, he has a daughter he can finally claim as his own...and he has a royal family continuing to spy on him long after he thought his spying days were over. His ignorant bliss is shattered when he receives a message from a friend he had thought lost forever: The Fool’s child is in danger, and he needs Fitz to save the child. But first, he has to find out who the child is.
Fool’s Quest is a novel of love, loss and longing — and what constitutes family. One man will do almost anything to protect those he loves. But with everyone in danger, how many can Fitz save?
Readers who enjoyed Raymond Feist’s early novels or who enjoy Trudi Canavan will enjoy the Fitz and the Fool series.
Life could not be any more taxing for Zacharias Wythe, the newly designated Sorcerer Royal of the Society of Unnatural Philosophers in Zen Cho’s debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown. The magical transfer of power from the previous Sorcerer Royal has left him with a mysterious affliction that hurts every night at midnight. Rival magicians want to overthrow him not only because they believe he murdered his predecessor but also because Zacharias is a former slave who now holds the highest position in British magical society. The British government wants Zacharias to wage a magical feud against a group of witches in Southeast Asia who threaten British colonial interests there. To top it all off, England’s magic — fueled by a bond with Fairyland — is failing, and Zacharias’s newest task is to learn why, all while knowing his detractors would happily blame the decline of British magic on its newest Sorcerer Royal.
In order to stop the continued magical decay, Zacharias travels to Fairyland to see the Fairy King. On the journey there, Zacharias meets Prunella Gentleman, a young woman working at Mrs. Daubeney's School for Gentlewitches. Prunella has a few problems of her own, including her biracial parentage and lowborn station in society, and the “gifts” found in her father’s valise. Her decision to accompany Zacharias back to London so she can find a husband sparks a chain of events that will challenge the racist and sexist attitudes of the magical peerage and change magical society in England forever.
Fans of Gail Carriger and Susanna Clarke, as well as Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, will enjoy this book immensely. It’s the first of a trilogy that promises to be an entertaining mix of Regency romance, political intrigue, social commentary and magical mayhem.
Mark is newly married and expecting his first child. As a demolitions technician, he has largely avoided many of the dangers and moral dilemmas usually associated with blowing things up, working from the safety of a lab and planning his future around his growing family. But his plans are frustrated when his promotion is denied and he is instead relocated to the paradoxically named Eden, Texas. Faced with a future of being cash-strapped in the scrublands, he apprehensively takes an offer from his profligate friend Jason to do contractual work for a secret military organization in Quanlom, an anonymous country in Southeast Asia. The Divine by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka is a visceral story of Mark’s descent into the civil war that is tearing the country apart.
Despite the violence implicit in his arrival, Mark remains a sympathetic protagonist, always trying to do the right thing in the face of many terrible choices. Quanlom’s war is a story of multiple narratives of conflict, with the added mystery of strange forces controlled by the rebelling faction’s child soldiers. What might have been a prosaic guts-n-glory plot is tempered with an instilled acknowledgment of the inherent atrocity of war. The premise of the book came about from the authors’ investigation of Apichart Weerawong’s famous photograph of Johnny and Luther Htoo, Burmese child soldiers, and the dazzling artwork does not neglect to reference the traditional art and design of the Southeast Asian setting. Readers may recognize Asaf Hanuka from his biographical graphic novel The Realist released earlier this year.
Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus introduces us to a world where the gods are among us, but can’t quite cover their bar tab. A tragedy some hundred years ago left most of the Greek gods dead, and now Bacchus, the God of Wine and Revelry, is an old man with the “deadest looking face you’ve ever seen,” and the only hints of his former glory are the two horns that occasionally peek out from under his hat before he falls down drunk at the bar. But when he sees his old rival Theseus being interviewed on live television, he gets a taste for the old days and sets out to settle the score.
Thus begins one of the most epic shaggy-dog stories ever put to print. Bacchus’ adventures are never what you expect them to be. He’ll set out on a quest, get discouraged, stop somewhere for a drink and then decide to visit the islands instead. It’s less an Odyssey than a pub-crawl through Greek mythology. And at his side is his faithful follower, Simpson, a Greek literature buff whose history lessons fill in the blanks for Bacchus, whose recall isn’t what it used to be (“It’s all a bit of a blur after I invented wine,” says Bacchus, on childhood.) Along the way they get wrapped up in mob rivalries, the search for the skull of Poseidon and a really weird guy named the Eyeball Kid.
Campbell’s detailed artwork and historical knowledge result in a book that’s both highbrow and slapstick, that knows when to be reverent and when to let the drunk god belch. It’s a must read for fans of Alan Moore’s classic From Hell, which Campbell illustrated, or the mythology-dense fiction of Neil Gaiman, whom Campbell also illustrated in The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.
With the release of its third volume, the conclusion of the series’ first major story arc, now is the perfect time to catch up on Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera’s pulp sci-fi romp Black Science. Grant McKay and the Anarchist League of Scientists seek the infinite possibilities of the multiverse using the taboo science of interdimensional travel, but things go astray when they discover that “the Pillar,” the device they’ve designed to navigate them through other dimensions, has been tampered with, and is now juggling them between seemingly random alternate realities and parallel dimensions.
The inks and colors by Matteo Scalera and Dean White, respectively, are vibrant and full of energy. This spectacular art team transports the reader to fantastical locations: a swampy landscape ravaged by a war between humanoid fish and frogs, a parallel North America where Native Americans have advanced technologically far beyond the rest of the world and a planet inhabited by flying spider-hippos and millipede-like religious fanatics are just a few examples. (It’s exactly as much fun as it sounds.)
As action-packed and outlandish as Black Science is, Rick Remender’s strong sense of pacing keeps the drama focused on the characters. In addition to the threats that the group encounters as it tears through the walls of reality, the members also struggle with more personal troubles like handling the responsibilities of parenthood and dealing with the aftermath of infidelity.
Those who enjoy Black Science may also want to try Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.’s take on Captain America, which is infused with a similar sci-fi flair.
Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author, Naomi Novik has a newly released Sci-Fi novel titled Uprooted. Novik was raised hearing Polish fairy tales and her latest work draws on that background. This historical fantasy has magic, monarchy and myth tied into every drama-filled page.
The Wood is a darkly magical and terrifying forest where even the water and pollen is caustic. Dreadful creatures emerge from the Wood to attack people from nearby villages. In one of these villages, our tale begins with Agnieska, the unremarkable daughter of a wood cutter. Her small village is ruled and protected by a wizard referred to as Dragon.
Every 10 years, Dragon comes to claim a 17-year-old girl that he takes with him back to his inescapable tower. The whole village is certain that Dragon will select Kasia, Agnieska’s best friend, who is exemplary in every way. Everyone is shocked when Agnieska is the one swept away to Dragon’s tower, where Agnieska learns that she is far less ordinary than she once thought herself to be.
Novik artfully designs a fairy tale for adults in this coming-of-age fantasy. Fans of Bridget Zinn’s Poison are sure to enjoy the historical fantasy and strong female characters of Uprooted.
Bestselling author Kristin Cast teamed up with her mother P.C. Cast to bring you the wildly popular teen series House of Night. Kristin Cast ventures out on her own for Amber Smoke, the first book in her new The Escaped series, written for the new adult audience.
Tartarus is more than just an area in the underworld where souls go to be judged after death, it’s also the place that Alek calls home. As the son of the Furies, Alek was born with the mission to save both the mortal realm and his own. In order to accomplish this arduous task, he will need to find and enlist the help of the Oracle.
As an average young adult waffling between majors, Eva has no idea that she is anything more than an indecisive college student, let alone an Oracle. She spends her time around the house with her mother, going to classes or hanging out with her best friend, Bridget. Her days are pretty carefree, but only because she’s oblivious to the fact that girls are going missing and turning up dead. With Tartarus on the brink and Alek on a mission, Eva’s world is about to be turned upside down.
Amber Smoke is a quick, light read with a clever combination of Greek mythology and contemporary settings. The carefully crafted alternating narrative is engaging, and the cliffhanger will leave you hankering for more.
The central conceit of Jim C. Hines' Magic ex Libris series is that practitioners of magic can pull tools out of books, creating arsenals of the wildest ideas that authors have ever come up with. Consider the benefit of Lucy's magic cordial from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a potion that can heal all wounds and sickness with just a drop, or the devastating power of Robert Jordan's balefire, a fire so strong that it doesn't just destroy its target, but erases it and all its works from existence. For years, Isaac Vainio was a Porter, a magical librarian tasked with keeping the public from knowing that magic even exists. In Unbound, book three in the Magic ex Libris series, the lid gets blown off so far that there's no chance magic will ever be secret again.
The value of the secret of magic is small compared to the incoming threat. An ancient queen has re-awoken, possessed the body of the only libriomancer who has so far figured out how to tap into e-books and started a rampage that should eventually result in a collapse of mortality and a whole lot of destruction. In her path: a former mage, the most kick-butt dryad to ever grace the pages of literature, a cranky psychiatrist not sure any of her extended family has any business in the field and the rapidly collapsing network of the Porters.
The greatest brilliance of Unbound may take place between the chapters, in one or two page stories that perfectly capture the fear and excitement of a world waking up to magic in its midst. As YouTubers fight over the special effects used in videos, wizards sneak into cancer wards and family members berate people for not doing enough when they had the power. It's exhilarating, heart-breaking and hopefully a promise of a fourth book set in the completely shattered status quo.