The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden
First sentence: “It was late winter in northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.”
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Content: There is a lot of violence and some sexual content. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

The plot of this one is hard to describe: it’s Russia on the cusp of when Christianity is becoming more accepted, but the Old Ways are still in play. There are demons keeping the Big Demon — known as The Bear — at bay, but due to priests, the people are beginning to neglect the Old Ways. Everyone, that is, except for Vasilisa. The youngest daughter of a northern lord, she sees and talks to the demons that keep the hearth fires burning, the stable animals quiet, and the lands safe. And when her father remarries a woman who is paranoid about the Old Ways, Vasilisa is the only one who keeps the village and the lands safe.

It’s a slow start, this one, but once it gets going — about halfway through — it really takes off. I mostly liked Vasilisa as a character; she is headstrong and not traditional and doesn’t keep anyone’s advice but her own. I really enjoyed the magic and the contrast between the Old Ways and religion, and how the priests believed that the two couldn’t co-exist. Arden is exploring interesting themes and I’m curious to see where the next one goes, since this one felt like a stand alone.

Maskerade

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “The wind howled.”
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Others in the series:  Equal RitesWyrd SistersWitches Abroad, Lords and Ladies
Content: There’s some reference to sex, because that’s just who Nanny Ogg is. And some creative swearing. It would be in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore if we had it.

Ah, I have come to adore Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Sure, some of the witches books are better than others (my personal favorite is still Witches Abroad), but I do adore the combination of Granny and Nanny taking on the world.

In this one, they head to Ankh-Morpork to tackle the opera. It seems that one of Lancre’s own, Agnes Nitt (aka Perdita X. Nitt) has moved to the big city to try and make her fortune, and has fallen in with the opera. That has a Ghost who seems to not only be haunting the opera house, but is murdering members of the cast and crew.

So, if this sounds vaguely like Phantom of the Opera, you’re probably right. Except — like a few of the other ones in the witches series — Pratchett takes the familiar bones of the story and overlays a funny and clever and insightful story with Granny and Nanny being their amazing selves. There’s a mystery in this one that they manage to solve (with some hilarious asides about being in the book publishing business), before getting Agnes to come back to Lancre and take up her True Calling as a witch.

Not my favorite of the series, but definitely fun! (I thought this was the last of them, but it turns out that there’s one more to go before I hit the Tiffany Aching series.)

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

by Tomi Adeyemi
First sentence: “I try not to think of him.”
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Others in the series: Children of Blood & Bone
Content: There is a lot of violence, some of it graphic. And talk of sex but none on the page. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

This book picks up right after the first one in the series, so spoilers (obviously).

It’s a few weeks after Zélie brought magic back to Orisha, but things haven’t gotten any better for the magi. In fact, when magic came back, it came back not only to those who had magic, but to those who have magic ancestry. Which means, unfortunately, that the royals who have been oppressing the magi now have magic… and so they keep oppressing (and killing) the magi, especially those who have decided that the royals must go.

It’s not a happy book, this. It’s very much a second in a series — they won a battle in the first book, but it wasn’t enough to win the war. And so one side retaliates, and then the other side retaliates, and then the first side retaliates again… you get the picture. In fact, that’s what I got out of it: it’s a very long musing on what happens when people can’t let go of past hurts and work towards a mutually beneficial solution. Though maybe, sometimes, burning everything to the ground may be the best option. There’s a lot to think about.

I still really like Adeyemi’s world building, and I like the way magic is evolving and being used in new ways. I enjoy that no character is fully good or evil; the “bad guys” have motivations that make sense, and the “good guys” aren’t wholly without fault or blameless. There’s even complexity in the relationships in the book. And I find all that highly satisfying.

I do have to say that I’m quite curious where this next book is going to go. I’m definitely going along for the ride!

Gideon the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir
First sentence: “In the myriadic year of our Lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! — Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
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Content: It’s violent and it’s sweary (including many f-bombs). It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

So, this one is hard to describe. The short pitch is lesbian necromancers in space, though that doesn’t really begin to touch on what really goes on in this book. The slightly longer version is that Gideon is an orphan raised by the Ninth House, which (in this world) is tasked with guarding the Locked Tomb for the Undying Emperor. However, when the heirs to each of the nine houses are called to the emperor to compete to be one of his Hands, Gideon is dragged along as the cavalier to Harrowhawk, the Ninth heir, into a world of intrigue.

But that doesn’t even give you a glimpse into the total awesomeness that is Gideon the Ninth. Not just the book, either: Gideon the character is so very awesome. Full of snark and sass and grit and just plain awesomeness, she’s a marvel. And I adore the relationship that grows between her and Harrow. Muir is a marvel of a writer, and the world that she has built is unique and brilliant and wild.

I can’t wait for the rest of this trilogy.

Lords and Ladies

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Now read on…”
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Others in the series:  Equal RitesWyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad
Content: There’s some mild swearing and inference about sex. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

Up until this point, with the witches series, you really didn’t have to read the ones that came before it. I mean, it helps, but it’s not ultimately necessary. However, with this one, you really do need to know what happens in the previous books if only so that all the little things that are happening in this one make sense.

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick have just gotten back from their jaunt in Witches Abroad and it turns out that Magrat is marrying the King of Lancre. (Who was the fool, but that’s the story in Wyrd Sisters). However it turns out that someone has been playing with the boundary between Lancre and the Elf world. As it turns out, elves — who the witches refer to as “the lords and ladies” — are not nice people, and they want to come through and create havoc. Which they do. And it’s up to the witches to stop them.

There are a few references to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it’s not as direct a parody as Wyrd Sisters is of Macbeth. Mostly this is the story of Magrat figuring out how to stand up for herself, and embrace what she really wants. (There was a moment near the end in which I literally cheered: “Go Magrat!”) And that you don’t have to do things the way books say, just because books say so.

Its not my favorite of the witch books, but I am really enjoying this Discworld series.

Call Down the Hawk

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “This is going to be a story about the Lynch brothers.”
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Content: There is a lot of violence (and a pretty high body count) and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Some non-spoilery things about Call Down the Hawk:

  1. You don’t have to have read the Raven Cycle to enjoy this one. (But why haven’t you?)
  2. It’s very much a first in a series book. There’s a LOT of set up, which takes most of the book, as Stiefvater lays down the groundwork to this world that’s similar to, but more expanded than, the one in the Raven Cycle.
  3. Which means she’s introduced new elements into the Dreamer world. It’s made it a more realistic source of magic, I think.
  4. She promised adventure, and by the end, there is tension and suspense and adventure.
  5. Ronan-and-Adam are fine, if not physically together.
  6. My favorite pages are 253-255.
  7. Her writing is So. Damn. Beautiful. Even when writing about horrible things.
  8. I liked the new characters — especially Hennessey and Jordan.
  9. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind spending a whole book with Ronan (I was a bit worried about that) and I really liked Declan. A lot. He was always probably not a prick, but Ronan just thought he was so readers did too.
  10. I’m curious to see where the next one goes.

Witches Abroad

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “
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Others in the series: Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters
Content: There’s some violence, but nothing graphic, as well as some mild swearing. It’s in the science fiction section of the bookstore.

AhHA! I found Granny Weatherwax. So, now you know: it took until this book for Pratchett to really fully develop Granny and her spitfire ways and headology. And this one was such a delight.

When a nearby witch finally dies, she sends a package to Magrat (which I keep misreading as Margaret, poor girl) Garlick with her wand, deeming Magrat a “fairy godmother”. Her task: go to Genua (which kind of felt New Orleans-y) and make sure Ella does NOT go to the ball. And, oh, don’t bring Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg along.

Of course Granny and Nanny come, and of course the three witches have adventures getting to Genua where they realize that someone — Granny knows who, but isn’t saying — has made a “perfect” kingdom where everyone lives out their “stories” and ends up “happily ever after”. And, of course, the witches get involved to help the stories, well… stop.

Yes, it’s a spin on fairy tales — Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella among others — but it’s also a musing on those last three words: happily ever after. See, Granny doesn’t believe in happily ever afters. Or fairy godmothers. People ought to make their own happiness, and witches are there not so much to give people what they want, but rather what they know they need. And I appreciated that.

It was laugh out loud funny in some spots, and just amusing in others. It was delightfully chaotic, poking fun at those people who don’t quite know how to travel abroad. I have to say, it’s my favorite among the witch books I’ve read (Tiffany Aching aside) so far.

An absolute delight.