At the risk of thinking myself shallow, I’m going to turn back, at least for now, to one of the reasons I started this Substack: so I can talk about books. Books, after all, are what I do: I write them, and I do that because as a kid I read them and read them and read them. And as many hours as I can steal from the required activities of grown-up life now, I still fill with reading. Do I think books, or art generally, can save us? Would that it could. But what art can do it support and revitalize us, give us a chance to recharge our batteries, and a chance to see, once more, what it is in this life that’s worth fighting for.
So I offer you two books I loved, in the hope they’ll help with your batteries.
Book the first: EBONY GATE, by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle.
I was at the San Diego Union-Tribune Book Festival this summer and after my own panel I went to a couple of others to hear people I knew. On one of those panels I also heard the two authors of this book, whom I didn’t know. I’m doing a joint writing project now, so I was kind of academically interested in their process; but after I heard this book described by one of the authors as “a female Asian John Wick with dragon magic” I was sold.
And I loved it.
The “dragon magic,” which is wielded by people, isn’t GAME OF THRONES, I promise you. It’s completely original; what impressed me most was the authors’ breadth of imagination coupled with the discipline with which they used it. No cheating here, which is one of my arguments with some fantasy/spec fiction. The voice of the narrator is also terrific — she’s a serious highly-trained martial arts warrior, plus she’s hilarious. Not just her; every character, good or bad — and most are a mixture — is a strength in this book. Once I started it I found myself carrying it around with me so I could sneak in a few pages while I was on the subway, etc. That right there should tell you something, because it’s not a small book and I’d bought the hardcover. Luckily for me it’s Book 1 of a trilogy. Can’t wait for the next.
Book the second: HALF-LIFE OF A STOLEN SISTER, by Rachel Cantor
In a sense, HALF-LIFE OF A STOLEN SISTER is also fantasy. It’s a re-telling of the lives of the Brontës, but called the Bronteys… set in the modern day… with archaic language… and different names… but not entirely different… told through narration, letters, diaries, short plays, radio interviews… Basically, this book is indescribable, except to say, it made me cry. And it made me laugh out loud. And here’s the thing: this is a story I knew, in broad outline. Tragedy after tragedy, some great books, more tragedy. Rachel Cantor’s great accomplishment here is to make all these people so real that I wondered why I’d never really known them for who they were before. Are the people in this book who the Brontës really were? I don’t know; but it’s a measure of how much I loved this book that it made me hope so.
If you have books to recommend, you can go ahead and do so in the comments.