Happy Friday, captains and courtiers. Today we’re talking Dexter Palmer’s Version Control and Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series, plus whimsy, fairy tales, series in translation, and more. Engage!
This newsletter is sponsored by Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero.
With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Meddling Kids subverts teen detective archetypes like Scooby-Doo and delivers a wickedly entertaining celebration of horror, love, friendship, and many-tentacled demon spawn.
The former members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club have grown up and apart, each haunted by disturbing memories of their final case. The time has come to get the team back together, face their fears, and find out what actually happened all those years ago at Sleepy Lake. It’s their only chance to end the nightmares and, perhaps, save the world. What if it wasn’t a guy in a mask?
Fetch me these immediately! I must have these six SFF series in translation. Well, everything except Night Watch, which I have already read and love. (Have you read those?! Bananas, in the best way, like most Russian speculative fiction.)
The B&N blog posted a Book Nerd’s Guide to Saving The World (with books, obviously), and their list of suggested reads has some great genre picks, as well as non-genre favorites, sprinkled through-out. You could build a very nice dystopia discussion in particular with their “Realize What Might Be” section!
I know it’s not an adaptation but I’ve been following the news about the forthcoming film Bright, which features Will Smith as a cop dealing with the supernatural. If you’re going to SDCC, click that link; they’re doing a sneak peek via Netflix alongside the Death Note adaptation. In the meantime I’ll be combing the web for leaked trailers — it’s been a while since we got a solid new fantasy flick (I am not counting Ritchie’s King Arthur for obvious reasons, even though I loved it).
Also for Californians! There is an Octavia Butler exhibit at The Huntington Library, displaying her personal papers, and I am so bummed that I cannot visit it. It’s up till August 7 — go visit for me, please?
Does your reading list need more whimsy? I feel sure that it does. Tor.com has some picks to help you out with that, including Yoss and Kim & Kim, which I cosign.
Perhaps your reading list also needs more fairy tales — the grown-up kind? This list of throwbacks to the original transgressive, creepy-as-all-get-out vibe of fairy tales gave me all of the heart-eye-emoji feelings. (And a bunch of new books for my TBR.)
And now, for more sci-fi/fantasy about parenting! I told you this was a thing.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer
What if you were married to a brilliant researcher working on a causality violation device (don’t call it time travel)? What if you were nagged by a persistent sense that something is just not quite right, that things are not how they should be? What if a horrible car accident took your child from you and changed your life forever? Dexter Palmer’s main character Rebecca is facing these questions, as well as her own alcoholism and the creeping malaise of middle-age.
Version Control is a slow burn of a novel that never quite went where I thought it was going to go. The first half or so of the book is almost exclusively focused on Rebecca’s very pedestrian life: her husband’s research isn’t going well, her marriage is strained, her past choices haven’t been the best, her friendships are complicated. Most of the characters are barely likable if at all, and almost too real in their flaws. Things in the outer world are slightly weird, and there’s definitely a sense of tension building, but to where? Then the second half of the book arrives. I confess I almost bailed on this book, but I’m so glad I stuck it out — the final third in particular was worth every second of reading time.
Can I interest you in creepy forest spirits and magical powers? Are you convinced the woods are always watching? What if magical powers were more of a curse than a cure? Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series is (as you might guess from that first title) bloody, magical, and very satisfying.
In The Queen of Blood we’re introduced to Renthia, a world in which humans live in tree-houses, some girls are born with the powers to speak to the four types of elemental spirits, and a Queen rules the land. Sounds great! Except for that all the spirits want nothing more to destroy humanity just for existing, frequently rip people to tiny pieces, and the only thing holding them in check are the Queen’s powers. If a girl is born able to talk to only one or two types of spirits, she becomes a hedge-witch; if she can control all types, she is sent to an academy to train to become a future queen. It’s a terrible job, but someone has to do it. Daleina, our protagonist, is not a Chosen One — her powers aren’t exceptionally strong, she’s not amazingly smart, she’s not athletically gifted. What she is, is adaptable: she’s learned to use what she has to get by. And when she gets sucked into a complicated political situation, she’s going to need every ounce of those skills to survive.
In The Reluctant Queen, Daleina is now ruling (that’s not really a spoiler, the titles of these books are pretty clear) but she’s fallen prey to an aggressive illness and is dying. And thanks to the events of The Queen of Blood, there are no candidates even close to ready to take over controlling the spirits. Ven, the man who trained Daleina, takes off to find someone they might have missed and discovers Naelin, a grown woman with a family and a quiet life who wants to keep it that way. But her powers are too strong to ignore, and she’s forced to go back to the capital with Ven to train. Here’s where the parenting comes in: the bargain includes bringing her young children with her. And rather than relegating them to the background, they become major characters within the story. I can think of other mothers in epic fantasy, but I can’t think of any who actually get to parent mid-quest, and Durst not only pulls it off but makes me want more.
Regardless of your feelings about motherhood and child characters, The Queens of Renthia series is great summer reading: fast-paced, lots of great and dimensional characters to engage with (Mistress Garnah, what what), and a new take on the classic “dark woods” trope.
And that’s a wrap. Happy reading! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the new SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations across the board you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.