Patricia C. Wrede, the master of fantasy who brought us the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Dealing with Dragons, etc), has a new groundbreaking young adult fantasy. Pat will be reading and signing at DreamHaven Books at 6:30 on October 18, 2023.
The young hero of The Dark Lord’s Daughter, Kayla, is transported to a fantasy world (from the Minnesota State Fair!), by a man who isn’t after all role-playing as a knight. There, she learns that she is really Xavrielina, the daughter and heir of the now-deceased Dark Lord of Zaradwin Castle. Like many fourteen-year-old heroes, Kayla is smart and practical, and not especially thrilled at the idea of becoming a possibly evil Dark Lady (or of being named Xavrielina). She mostly wants to go home.
But, of course, the only way out of most adventures is to get through them. Kayla has a rare advantage over most adolescent heroes—her adoptive mother and obnoxious younger half-brother are both kidnapped with her. Even rarer, Kayla’s mother is also smart and practical; well-prepared and surprisingly supportive. Her brother is a smart-mouth, but can occasionally be useful too.
Helpful quotes (from “The Dark Traditions”) at the beginning of each chapter inform the reader that actual evil is expected from this world’s Dark Lords and Ladies. Happily, the instructions about terrorizing the locals and eliminating the competition are so over-the-top that Kayla cannot possibly take them seriously. The relief of the locals and competition is delightful to watch.
In 1990, when Dealing with Dragons was released, it was unusual for a princess to go around rescuing princes and dragons. Today it is unusual to find a fantasy where family is strong and encouraging without overshadowing the young hero’s story. This is a fun read for young adults of all ages or read-aloud for younger kids.
Travis Baldree is a voice actor who narrates audiobooks. His author biography states that, “Apparently, he has now written one book.” Indeed he has. It’s a New York Times bestseller and has been nominated for a Hugo Award.
Legends and Lattes is the name of a coffee shop opened by a retired orc adventurer named Viv. No one in the city of Thune has ever heard of coffee, so it’s a bit of an uphill battle. Viv and her enormous greatsword have been through plenty of battles, but this one is different. The sword now hangs from the wall, decorated in flowers, and is of no use whatsoever for solving Viv’s current problems.
To succeed in the barista business, Viv collects a diverse group with multiple, previously-unrecognized talents. All of them are delightfully quirky and obviously destined to become found family. Most of their difficulties are easily solved with an application of genius—like inventing the croissant or designing an advertising system—but when the Thune equivalent of the Mafia arrive, well . . . maybe things are not quite so simple.
There is an emerging sub-genre of F/SF books featuring diverse characters, unexpected community, and ordinary problems solved by kindness. Readers of Becky Chambers and TJ Klune can add Travis Baldree to their list of authors writing such comfortable books.
And we’ve finally gotten confirmation from our fourth guest on August 26th for our “Afternoon with Independent Graphic Novel Creators.” Come visit Diana, along with Daisy Finch McGuire, Blue Delliquanti, and Nathan Lueth. We’re not sure where we’ll fit them all, but there will be an opportunity to meet them, view their work, and possibly watch them draw.
Diana Nock is a cartoonist, writer, illustrator, and incorrigible dilettante best known for her work on Poorcraft and her webcomic The Intrepid Girlbot, the latter of which will be relaunched very soon at intrepidgirlbot.com! For a good time, ask her about her vision of the Apocalypse.
The third person who will be displaying his work and meeting his fans at DreamHaven on Saturday, August 26, is Nathan Lueth. He seems to be the only creator so far who is not a cartoon.
Nathan Lueth came into existence with a pencil in his hand, a feat which continues to confound obstetricians to this day. Now an 18 year veteran freelance illustrator, storyboard artist, and graphic novelist, Nathan has worked with clients and publishers of all sizes such as Target, General Mills, The University of Pennsylvania, Inverse Press, Wannabe Press, Writers of the Round Table, and more. He is the co-creator of the Victorian-flavored epic fantasy graphic novel series, Impure Blood, the editor/publisher of the modern fantasy comic anthology Concrete Arcanum. His latest series, The Canon of Vangel, launched in May 2022 and can be read online at www.canonofvangel.com.
This is the second creator who will be at DreamHaven on Saturday, August 26, for “An Afternoon With Independent Graphic Novel Creators.” We have four guests scheduled to display their work and meet their fans from 2 to 4 PM.
Daisy Finch McGuire is the webcartoonist who self-published the historical fantasy situation comedy comic, Gastrophobia. She also illustrated Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein’s Let’s Print a Comic and worked freelance for Nickelodeon Magazine, SpongeBob Comics, Paradox Space, and various anthologies. Her current project is a queer reimagining of The Marvelous Land of Oz called Yellow Brick Ramble, which is available to read at yellowbrickramble.com
On Saturday, August 26, DreamHaven will be hosting “An Afternoon With Independent Graphic Novel Artists Creators.” We have four guests scheduled to display their work and meet their fans from 2 to 4 PM. The first is:
Blue Delliquanti is a comic artist and writer based in Minneapolis. From 2012 to 2020 Blue drew and serialized the Prism Award-winning science fiction comic O Human Star at ohumanstar.com and have since worked on graphic novels and novellas including Across a Field of Starlight and Adversary. They teach comics courses at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Yuriko Sonoda is an asexual woman, a big fan of the 2-D relationships in Boy’s Love manga. Hanazono is a gay man who has never admitted to his crush on his childhood friend, Sousuke. Both are under pressure to marry. Though they initially turn down the marriage their parents arrange, they become friends and confidants and, eventually, legally man and wife. There are two volumes translated so far, dealing with their relationship and the non-sexual parts of a marriage. But it is becoming clear that both of them have a thing for the oblivious, beautiful Sousuke
The Gay Who Turned Kaiju by Kazuki Minamoto
A gay high school teen named Arashiro finds that his wish to be someone else has manifested in the sudden change of his head into a giant kiaju shape. Arashiro has been bullied, though not necessarily because he is gay, but finds that people are much more comfortable with his new monstrous appearance than they were with him being gay. This single-volume story is a wonderfully quirky metaphor for coming out, accepting oneself, and the power inherent in no longer being able to hide.
Until I Love Myself by Poppy Pesuyama
The non-binary manga artist Poppy Pesuyama hates their female body almost as much as they hate themself. When they are sexually harassed by a famous manga artist, who they need to work for to advance their career, it is devastating. This is an honest, autobiographical story which leaps from past to present. It details the psychological consequences of gender dysphoria and past sexual harassment; along with present attempts to move forward. It is blunt, brave and, since there are very few stories from a non-binary perspective, important. The final volume of this two-volume series arrives in translation in September.
I’ve been hearing great things about Brandon Sanderson from his many fans for some time. I read his Mistborn Series a long time ago and quite liked it. But I have to admit that I have not been in a place to deal with the epic, multivolume fantasies that Sanderson is best known for. So I was pleased to find this shortish, stand-alone novel. The full title is The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England. I stayed up late to finish it, something which I haven’t done for a while.
The novel was, according to the author’s notes, a “bedtime story” that Sanderson told himself while he was working on the novels promised by his recent, very successful Kickstarter campaign. It didn’t fit with the other novels, but wouldn’t get out of his head. It is indeed rather free-form, mixing travel to alternate dimensions, futuristic body modifications, and international intrigue with something like Celtic druids, Viking Gods, and wizards.
The actual “Frugal Wizard’s Handbook” is more or less a character in the story. Excerpts are provided between chapters, to let the reader (and protagonist) know that, in fact, the entire dimensional travel thing is just a sales pitch gone wrong. Sanderson insists that the novel is science fiction, in part because the wizard who wrote the Handbook (Cecil G. Bagsworth III) is totally a fraud. There is really no point in arguing with him.
Sanderson is a master storyteller, able to create engaging believable characters and an intriguing, page-turning plot seemingly without breaking a sweat. The novel is a wonderful ride, tense and fun, and not requiring too much thought or commitment. Not everything has to be great literature. Sometimes you need to just grab a book and settle down for a fast, furious read.
For all of you lovers of Greek mythology, Jordan Holt’s graphic novel Theseus promises a retelling of the story of Theseus’ life, based on the ancient writings of Plutarch. For all of you lovers of humor, fear not. The author states that, “Behind every grand myth is a true story that’s never been told. This is most certainly not it.”
Theseus is a hilariously aggrieved young man, who sets off on an epic quest to find his father who, according to his mother, is the King of Athens. Theseus is at once skeptical about this, and seems to totally expect that pursuing this destiny will be super easy. His adventures don’t entirely disabuse him of this notion, since help and hindrance both arrive steadily from random Greek Gods. There is a lot of eye rolling and sarcastic sighing. Also a lot of accidentally pushing very large muscular opponents off of cliffs.
Each chapter ends with a fake letter column, which absolutely should be read, despite the somewhat eye-straining color choices for some of them. There are jokes which carry over into the story, informative advice which probably should not be followed, and decidedly unhelpful art instruction.
According to the internet, which is remarkably silent about his career, Jordan Holt is an art professor and illustrator who lives in Tennessee. He funded the printing for the first two volumes of Theseus on Kickstarter; the third and final volume is nearly finished. He has four kids, but none who seem to be old enough to provide the inspiration for teenage Theseus. Holt freely admits to ripping off Greek mythology, and claims to have several fake mustaches which will allow him to dodge the cease and desist orders from Plutarch.
This is the first novel by Emma Torzs, but she is not a newcomer to the fantasy genre. She attended Clarion West and has written several short stories, including ‘Like a River Loves the Sky’ which won a World Fantasy Award in 2019.
I love books about magical libraries, and Ink Blood Sister Scribe has two of them. One is hidden in the basement of an old house in Vermont. The other is housed in an enormous mansion somewhere in England, and is large enough to be referred to merely as the Library. Both contain a collection of valuable books, written by Scribes over the centuries. Each book, when read aloud by a person who has inherited magical talent, performs a unique magic spell.
But the best part of Ink Blood Sister Scribe is actually the characters. There are the two sisters: Joanna who lives alone with her library in Vermont, protecting it and hiding herself with a daily reading of the codex that renews the wards; and Esther, who seems doomed to wander the world restlessly, somehow unable or forbidden to come home. In England are Nicholas, pampered and anemic under the protection of the Library as the last surviving Scribe, and his snarky but very competent bodyguard, Collins. They are all fully human, flawed and wonderful.
Surrounding them is the untold history of magic, full of lies and deception. Many magical traditions have been lost or stolen, and both libraries have their secrets, intertwined and deadly. At stake is the purpose and preservation of magic in the world. But while protecting the libraries and magic books is important, the plot centers beautifully on the lives and sacrifices made by the protagonists as they navigate the web of betrayal that links the two libraries.
One of the hardest things to do, I think, in writing middle grade fantasy, is to give children adventures where they are truly challenged but can still reasonably defeat some great evil. It’s even better if the young adventurers have to conquer something in themselves in order to succeed. In The Counterclockwise Heart both young protagonists must call on every bit of courage they have in order to save their countries. If the threats are maybe not as evil as the kids have been led to believe, then some of their battles must take place within themselves.
Alphonsus is the Prince of a country called Rheinvelt, adopted by the empress and her wife the imperatrix after being found as an infant in the castle walls. He has two huge secrets. One is his self-acknowledged cowardice, and the other is that the mysterious clock he has in his chest instead of a heart has begun running backwards. Esme is a sorceress, trained in exile by the remnants of magicians called Hierophants, and sent to Rheinvelt on a mission to kill the evil witch called the Nachtfrau. Esme is clever and ruthless, and also has a secret. The Nachtfrau is her mother.
The Counterclockwise Heart is a fairly complex story for middle grade, but it is told in straightforward prose that nevertheless does not speak down to children. As a plus, both Esme and Alphonsus have mothers, both of whom are important characters, just as brave and complicated as their children. In fact, everyone in the story has their own set of secrets and misconceptions, including the adults and the country of Rheinvelt itself.
The book won the Minnesota Book Award for Middle Grade Literature this year, a well-deserved honor. It should be read by middle schoolers of all ages. Brian Farrey has written two other Minnesota Book Award winners. One of them, With or Without You, also was a Stonewall honor book.
Noragami is one of my favorite manga/anime series. Kodansha Comics has been releasing an omnibus edition (three volumes in one), so all the early volumes (from 1 to 15, so far, with 15 to 18 on the way) are once again available. The series is still ongoing, with Volume 26 to be released in English soon. I have read all of them, some two or three times, and am still eager for the next one.
Noragami means, literally, stray god. Yato is indeed a stray, a young homeless god who whose very existence is precarious. Gods fade away when no one believes in them, and Yato has no temple and only one human follower—his “father”— the sorcerer who created him and has controlled him for decades.
Yato dreams of a crowd of admiring worshippers, and decides to set out on his own. But he finds the world a dangerous place, full of corrupted souls, angry gods and spiritual blight. He can barely survive, getting one believer at at time through advertising to the desperate on social media, always hoping to get a new client before the previous one forgets about their encounter with the divine.
When a high school girl named Hiyori saves Yato from being run over by a bus (which wouldn’t have hurt him at all) he finally finds another person who can remember him. But Hiyori has her own problems—the bus hit her instead, and her soul is no longer properly attached to her body. Together, the pair find a “pure soul,” a boy who has recently died and not yet been corrupted. Yato names him Yukine, which enables him to turn into a sword that Yato can use as a weapon against his enemies.
But Yato is still not safe. The three are beset by the consequences of Yato’s past actions, along with their own personal failings. They must navigate Yukine’s anger, Hiyori’s desire to remain part of the spirit world, and Yato’s boundless but fragile ego. They are at once hilarious, annoying, and endearing. And it seems Yato is willing to risk nearly anything to keep his new found family together.
What? You’ve never heard of the legendary pirate, Amina Al-Sirafi? Whose gold-toothed smile and enormous figure was the last thing seen by who-knows-how-many men? The nakhudha of the infamous ship, the Marawati, which roamed the Indian Ocean, stealing horses from the Emir of Hormuz, and setting fire to the customs house in Basrah, and poisoning an entire feast in Mombasa?
And who, of course, had the audacity to be a woman.
But now Amina Al-Sirafi has retired, or perhaps merely gone into hiding. She has a leaky house to maintain, and both an aging mother and a ten-year-old daughter to care for. She has a bad knee. Her trusted crew are either dead or likewise retired. Her ship is getting by, doing routine trading (smuggling and only a little piracy) and she has not been on it for years. She does not miss her old life. At all. Really.
Which is why she protests when forced to embark on a new and dangerous mission. But not very much. The story, told in her own irreverent and cynical words, unfolds as most adventures do. There are sorcerers, sea monsters, storms, and ancient legends brought to life. There is an alliance with an island of mythical creatures and a treacherous demon possibly-not-ex-husband. But underlying all of it is worry about her daughter and true concern for the lives of her crew, informed by the triumphs and tragedies of their shared past.
Amina Al-Sirafi is one of the best “strong female protagonists” I have read. She is an indomitable fighter, courageous and fearsome. But the way she chooses to fight, and what she chooses to fight for, is all female. She is lusty, foul-mouthed, contrary, stupidly brave, and without a doubt a woman.
This is another insightful fairytale by one of my current favorite authors. It begins with a poetic but rather dark tale—because it would be terribly uncomfortable to make a dog out of bones or a cloak of nettles — but the story quickly develops Kingfisher’s usual sideways, unexpected humor.
Our heroine Marra is a Princess, but the third-born one, scheduled for marriage only after her two older sisters wed. She is neither plucky nor beautiful. She is a short, shy girl who is good at embroidery and solitude. When she is assigned to a convent to keep her out of the way, she does not mind at all. She has never dreamed of Princes.
Which is just as well, because the Prince in this story is really not very nice. He has, one after the other, married her two older sisters, killing the first and using the second only to produce heirs. The middle sister is fighting a terrible battle against abuse, using pregnancy and the promise of a son as her only weapons.
There is certainly darkness around the edges of the story, but it is told through the eyes of Marra, who does not dwell on it. Her magic is ultimately of the practical sort enjoyed by women who, like Terry Pratchett’s witches, operate with a bit of knowledge, unshakeable good humor, and a lot of common sense.
I’ve been a fan of Francis Hardinge’s wonderful, morally complex novels for young adults since reading The Lie Tree, which won a Costa Book Award for Children’s Book (best novel by an author residing in the UK or Ireland) in 2015. Her novels have consistently brought a teen protagonist through an adventure which requires obtaining, not increased physical or mental prowess, but the maturity to make a difficult decision.
The young protagonist of Deeplight, Hark, is an orphan who has grown up (at age 15) to be a thief and con man, dealing in magical relics. He starts out as the typical street-kid-with-a-heart, but becomes much more interesting. He is joined eventually by Selphin, a young woman whose mother is a pirate, who also has unexpected steel in her moral fiber. She is, interestingly, “sea-kissed,” which means she has lost her hearing during undersea diving. There is a community of “sea-kissed” and most of Selphin’s conversations in the book take place in sign language.
Hardinge’s books all have unique fantasy worlds with interesting magic operating under unusual conditions. Deeplight is no exception. Its world is called Myriad, a huge chain of islands which had, until fifty years ago, been ruled by vast, Lovecraftian undersea Gods. They have left behind relics with incredible power, an economy which centers on harvesting those relics, and an abandoned priesthood aging on a deserted island.
And Gods also, of course, leave behind secrets for unsuspecting teenage protagonists to discover. The secrets of Myriad are layered and complicated, but well within the understanding of the people like Hark and Selphin, who can grow to treasure them.