In the moonlight filtering through the withered and forgotten yard that is my garden, I sleep my nights alone, dreams running wild in search of that one idea to take root that I may, pen to paper, give blossom to fancies hidden deep within my mind.
Of those wonders locked deep within my mind– the multitude of which drives me wild! – each and every one refuses to root, leaving me with an expansive garden waiting to bloom yet always withering before I see a single fresh blossom.
I can only stare out at the garden and hope my mind will not simply wither, that inspiration find me and blossom on my paper like jasmine growing wild. Yet blackness creeps in, a void in my mind immovable as oak with ancient roots.
Dreaming so, I see her first running wild, clad in paper-bark skin and few blossoms, then stepping lightly about my garden. Just as suddenly I am of single mind and the words flow, finally laying down roots. My garden springs to life, nothing withered.
In the way of dreams, I pluck at blossoms and find she waits for me as if rooted so that I may capture her in my mind as long as I may before she withers. The last words fall to place, no longer wild while this Calliope walks within my garden.
Harsh I awake to sun parched soil and root. My dreams, a cracked hardpan within my mind, crumble away – not dead, but withering. Then I see, outside, a single blossom giving life to the heart of my garden; on my desk, this poem, titled simply–
I’m reading some fat fantasy book set in Yet Another Faux Medieval Europe. Nothing in this story jibes with my understanding of actual medieval Europe. There’s no fantasy version of the Silk Road bringing spices and agricultural techniques and ideas from China and India and Persia. There’s been no Moorish conquest. There aren’t even Jewish merchants or bankers, stereotypical as that would be.
Everyone in this “Europe” looks the same but for minor variations of hair or eye color. They speak the same language, worship the same gods — and everyone, even the very poor people, seems inordinately concerned with the affairs of the nobility, as if there’s nothing else going on that matters. There are dragons and magic in the story, but it’s the human fantasy that I’m having trouble swallowing.
It doesn’t matter which book I’m reading. I could name you a dozen others just like it. This isn’t magical medieval Europe; it’s some white supremacist, neo-feudalist fantasy of same, and I’m so fucking sick of it that I put the book down and open my laptop and start writing. Later people read what I’ve written and remark on how angry the story is.
Gosh, I wonder why.
We might have mentioned before how much we love science fiction, and the fact that this year’s summer reading theme is Science. Actually: Science!! It needs an exclamation point.
So, we’ve put together a really, really, incredibly huge booklist (working title? The Hive) for fans of science and fantasy fiction - and we added a little something extra, since, if you’re anything like us, when you love reading a genre, you love to watch films and shows, and play video games, in that same genre.
And if you’re playing Reading Bingo this summer with us for Summer Reading - or if you’re planning to take part in our Summer Fling (With a Book)! matchmaking program - then these books will definitely see you through summer and beyond!
One thing I’d love to see more of in fantasy fiction is all the mundane things that have to go into a successful mystical/religious rite. A plethora of fantasy books–probably the majority of them–use religious or quasi-religious ritual to inspire a sense of awe, or advance the plot, or build the mythology of the world. But I can’t think of many that have used religious ritual to build characters or ground us in the reality of the world.
I want a story with a newly ordained priestess who doesn’t get her robes in time for the Feast of the Sea Gods, so she borrows her sister’s and has to keep rolling her sleeves back during the ceremony to stop them falling in the bowl of lamb’s blood. I want a story where the Ninth Masked Chanter keeps saying “save us from the shadow ones” even though the God-Emperor’s Council officially changed the words to “protect us from the shadowed” five years ago, because “save us from the shadow ones” is what the Ninth Masked Chanter grew up saying, and it’s really hard to stop your mind from going on autopilot during these long chants. I want a story with a young flutist who’s all-over excited that she gets to play the Midwinter Dirge of the Sun for the first time, and she’s been practicing for weeks, and after the Midwinter Rite is over everyone in the coven makes sure to tell her how well she did.
And that’s not even getting into all the interpersonal conflict that’s possible when you have to coordinate any kind of event, let alone a religious one. Pick any ritual object, anything at all, from candelabras down to chalk for pentacles, and I guarantee you
someone has to clean this object or clean up after it;
at least one person in the group cares very deeply that this object is always treated with proper reverence, but at least one person in the group couldn’t care less; and
at some point in living memory, someone came up with brand-new plans for how this object should be treated during the ritual, and a long, often petty battle was waged over whether to adopt this new idea.
I’m all in favor of fictional rituals that tell us about the big-picture stuff, like plot, tone, and world. But books that get behind the scenes of the ritual can also tell us whether Brother Isthmus is the type of person who gives the Lantern of Summer’s End a cursory swipe with a rag when it’s his turn to clean or the type of person who would never dream of giving it anything less than the six prescribed cleansings.
[carryalaser asks:Was wondering (sorry if it’s been dealt with before) if you had favourite/recommended works of fantasy/historical fiction in regards to positive PoC representation? And thank you a lot for the effort put into this blog, one of the finest. My mother wishes it was around when she was homeschooling my sisters and I.]
OMG, Thank you!!! And your mom sounds awesome.
I’m a pretty hardcore Fantasy/Sci Fi fan and have been since childhood. The unrelenting whiteness of the genre (especially the late 70’s early 80’s stuff I was practically weaned on) really did a number on me, especially as a teen. That’s a lot of why this blog exists, in fact.
The Crown of Stars Series by Kate Elliott
A must for medieval fans! I love the series for the awesome character development, realistic worldbuilding, and instead of “medieval England” going on and on through the entire map, you end up in versions of Hungary, Eurasia, Mesoamerica, Ethiopia and Egypt. Not only that, here’s your protagonist:
For those who are more into Steampunk and Historical Fiction (not me, in other words), I actually DO recommend another Elliott series:
The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, Cold Steel)
The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods)
OMG. YOU NEED THIS.
Seriously if you pick one, pick THIS one. Characters you never knew you couldn’t live without include Oree Shoth, Sieh, Yeine, Nahadoth, and many, many more. Description:
Gods and mortals. Power and love. Death and revenge. In the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, gods dwell among mortals and one powerful, corrupt family rules the earth. Three extraordinary people may be the key to humanity’s salvation.
Dreamblood (The Killing Moon, The Shadowed Sun) by N. K. Jemisin
YOUR MIND WILL BE BLOWN OKAY.
Magic system is really unique, and the characters will feel like your new, weird, difficult best friends who have hero complexes and martyr complexes and so much political intrigue and so much EVERYTHING.
Acacia Trilogy by David Anthony Durham (Acacia, Other Lands, The Sacred Band)
This is a person with a background in Historical Fiction, so to MY taste, it starts a little dry but is meaty and totally worth it. The plot and the politics and the geography are really going to appeal to Historical Fiction buffs. The whole plots hinges around moral quandaries involving power, colonization, slavery, and drugs.
Also, the characters are pretty good. More plot driven than character driven.
The Elemental Logic Series (Fire Logic, Earth Logic, Water Logic, forthcoming Air Logic) by Laurie J. Marks
AMAZING High Fantasy fare. These books read like a good meal. I don’t even have words for it, just….you’ll feel what the characters feel when they’re tested to the breaking point and beyond. You’ll love who they love, and need what they need. GLORIOUS DESTINIES tempered by incredible grittiness, and villains you will hate so much it’ll feel like a toothache. One of my very favorites. (NOTE: The cover of Fire Logic is whitewashed. Zanja is a woman of COLOR. I will post the cover of Earth Logic instead.)
Yesterday we saw bookriot’s post of read-alikes for Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassin trilogy and were so, so excited: one, because that’s one of our favorite YA series, ever, and two, because the list features Jennifer McGowan’s Maids of Honor books - Jennifer will be here tomorrow for our next NaNoWriMo workshop, talking publishing and critiquing short pieces, and we can’t wait!
Naturally, that got us thinking about some of our other favorite YA novels in which thieves, spies, and assassins appear, so here’s a small compilation of historical, fantasy, and historical fantasy fiction for your weekend reading!
Maid of Secrets and Maid of Deception, Jennifer McGowan