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Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoA fascinating reimagining of the history of England with magicians of color. I SO loved the other traditions of magic that appeared here from other world regions, and of course, the main character, who is struggling to deal with a society that is racist and won’t admit it. The Three-Body Problem by I’ve been trying to read more fiction written by diverse people, and this is a translation from the Chinese. While there are some flaws, including a lack of three-dimensional female characters, in many ways this is a return to classic science fiction of thought experiments. I really enjoyed the way I had to think to follow the story, which is about what happens when aliens who don’t speak are trying to invade Earth. Sort of.
Roses and Rot by Kat HowardA magic school story, but with some bite. Two sisters end up at a special college for magical artists, but they are bitter about their past and their abusive mother keeps inserting herself into their lives. About abuse, but also about healing and about being an artist despite everything.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuireI love Maguire’s Rosemary and Rue world, and this one is even better! A trans main character, lots of diversity, plus dozens of interesting secondary worlds—and a murder mystery to boot! Binti by Nnedi OkoraforA novella by an incredible author I met at Sirens. It’s on audible, which is how I read it, and it’s just jam-packed full of ideas and feels very much like “the tip of the iceberg.” A WOC main character is on a spaceship where everyone has died but her. When aliens try to board the ship, she has to defend her people.

The Thorn and the Blossom
by Theodora Goss
I read about this book and knew I had to have it. The gimmick is that the book is a romance written from both the male and female point of view. The book has no spine, so you can read the male romance on one side and you flip it over for the other. It is just the kind of book I love because it is about two characters in an academic department coming to understand that the fantastic literature they are writing about is real. Something about this writing style felt so clean to me, so easy to read. I love that. So melodic and yet not self-consciously so. I loved this book in a special way.
Midnight in Austenland
by Shannon Hale
I have been waiting with great anticipation for Shannon Hale's sequel to Austeland. I loved the first, but I wasn't sure how she would manage to write a sequel that didn't feel like a retread. I should have trusted Shannon's brilliance more. She wrote both the sequel I wanted and a new book that was surprising all along the way. The problem is that saying too much about the plot truly ruins it. She tips her hat to Austen's Northanger Abbey here. She tells a story about a woman finding love again after a terrible marriage. She also does a great job of twisting romance expectations. This is the perfect beach read, but it's also a great book club read. I can just imagine all the women arguing over when they knew the moment that the "real" romance was obvious. Or when they knew who the killer was. Or when they wanted to lynch the ex-husband. Once again, I wish I was Shannon Hale.

Cloud Roads
by Martha Wells
A young man who can shape shift lives among humans who can't until the day when he sees another shape-shifter and discovers that he is a lost "consort," an important member of the court of shape-shifters. And they want him back. Or they mostly want him back. The court is not a simple place to be, and they are under attack by other creatures who are genetically related but "evil." How those genetic relationships are going to play out is something for another book, but this is a rich, full story. I loved the twists in the relationships between the male and female characters. On the one hand, this is a story of the lost princess who is found and then betrothed to the prince. Only it's not a princess, it's a lost prince. And he isn't sure if he wants to be married to the queen. She has power over him that really frightens him, magical power that "unmans" him to a certain extent. And the cost of coming back into this world that has forgotten him is giving up everything that he used to be. Loved, loved it!
Scriber
by Ben Dobson
I really loved this book. It had a first person narration, which is always a draw to me, and one of the reasons I tend to prefer YA. It's also a book that is contained in one volume, another draw. And it isn't tedious in digressions, making it a thousand pages long. The "Scriber" of the title is Dennon Lark, a flawed hero who doesn't know his own worth. He brings death to all around him, and he hates himself for it in the way that all heroes should. But my favorite part of the book is probably Bryndine and her band of women warriors. These are women who for various reasons no longer have a normal female place in the world, some abused, some simply misfit. But they come together for a cause and under Bryndine as their leader. She is physically large, nearly 8 feet tall, but also large in heart. She protects her women fiercely and even her kingdom, though it has rejected her. There are some sweet romance moments, but it isn't a romance. It's an epic with a lot of the updated kinds of notes that I need to love epic.

Heroes Adrift
by Moira J. Moore
Heroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore is completely different. It is set in what feels like a Victorian England on the slant, with a magical system that relies on pairs of Sources and Shields. Lee and Taro are a fun couple, he the fashion-obsessed dandy with a string of ladies waiting for him, she the uncomfortable, serious woman who gradually shows her flashier (and more passionate side). I found the unfinished romance interesting in terms of variations on a theme. I found the magic gradually more intriguing. I found the story of Aryne, the granddaughter of the queen who is raised in the tropics unknown and unknowing, even more interesting. The novel ends not with a cliffhanger but not with real closure, either. But I was content to tell myself I would get the next book and read on. A fun combination of romance and fantasy for a light day (or week) of reading.
Glamour in Glass
by Mary Robinette Kowal
I loved the first book in this series (Shades of Milk and Honey), and I was both surprised and satisfied by this new edition. Surprised because Austen's own books are not about married couples, but about the uncertain phase of courtship. When the declaration of love has occurred, the story is over. But in Glamour in Glass, the same couple (Vincent and Jane) are now married and embarked on their honeymoon trip to the Netherlands to visit a friend of Vincent's who is also skilled in glamour. Jane discovers a new twist (literally) on the magic of glamour and she and Vincent also become involved in the return of Napoleon after his first exile. One of the things I most enjoyed about the story was the moment when Jane is told by the doctor (with a shock of dark hair--who, Mary told me is meant to remind us of my favorite doctor, David Tennant) that she mustn't use glamour while she is pregnant. It's right for the time period for there to be prohibitions. It also felt right for me that Jane would end up having to stretch those rules for herself, as all good heroines do. There are consequences for this choice, and they are devastating. But who knows what will happen next.

The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton
I read this book for my book club, but I liked it a lot. As a writer, I was intrigued at the way in which I would continue reading to find out the answers to the big questions the novel began with and the smaller ones that come up along the way. As in a detective story, I found myself trying to guess what the real ending was, sure that the author wouldn't reveal the truth too soon. Indeed, the secrets continue to be revealed to the very last page. This is about a four year old girl who comes off a ship in Australia alone and with no memories of her family. She is adopted, and then told the truth later, returns to England and tries to find out the answers about her past. Who is she and why was she abandoned? I loved the feel of the book, sprawling, but never bogged down. There are several different times going on at the same time, but I honestly had no trouble telling them apart. If I had a tiny quibble with the book it would be that I felt like the ending erred a little on the side of plot rather than on the side of character. That probably makes no sense, but you know when an author wants an ending to come out a certain way and maybe the characters don't act true to form because of the need to have the final perfect surprise?
Of Blood and Honey
by Stina Leicht
A young man is caught in two wars, one between the Catholics and the Protestants in 1975 Ireland, and one between the fallen and the fey. Liam is the half mortal child of a fey man and a mortal woman. He has the power to change into a huge wolf-like hound and a few other tricks. But he finds his own powers terrifying.Even in prison, when he is being tortured and the "monster" inside him escapes and kills, he is tormented by guilt over this. When he ends up killing a constable while on a raid for the IRA, he feels more guilt. But when his own wife is killed, he fights back. At first, I found this novel a little dark for my tastes, but after the prison scene was over, I fell into it. The language is powerful and clean. There was enough detail to make me feel that I was there, but never so much that I felt like the author was trying to prove her credentials. This is one of those fantasies that does exactly what I think only fantasy can do. It makes us see ourselves and the world upside down, inside out, and yet just right. What is it that makes humans continually fight each other and be unable to make peace? It's the monster inside us.

The Hidden City
by Michelle West
I was drawn into this story by the relationship between the young girl Jay (Jewel) in it and the man she decides to steal from (Rath) and then becomes a ward of. I followed along as the cast of characters grew larger and larger, mostly filled with children. A part of my mind was curiously wondering why it is that a book like this is adult and not children's. One reason: length. Maybe it's darker. I'm not so sure. Each of the children is child-like, and there's not a sense of nostalgia about childhood that there is many books written about children for adults. But these aren't children who are carefree and worry about if they will get to sit in the cool side of the cafeteria at school. These are children who have been abused and who are trying to find power in a world that doesn't give it easily. I had a sense that they really mattered, though not in the typical “fantasy prophetical child” sense. I will say that for me, I wished a little that the book had remained smaller. Not the world itself, but the cast of characters did overwhelm me at some point. I liked them and the writing is fabulous. This is a personal bent. I tend to prefer smaller stories, that's all, intimate stories about two people. This isn't that, though it seemed to be at first. I will be curious to see what stories come next, since this is obviously the first in a really big fat fantasy series.
The Executioness
by Tobias Buckell
I admit, I picked this up because of the concept. I, like Maureen McHugh, wonder sometimes why it is that middle aged women, and specifically mothers, are not the heroes of any stories, either in urban fantasy or high fantasy or science fiction (with the exception, perhaps of Lois McMaster Bujold's brilliant first two books--but even there, Cordelia fades as Miles comes into the forefront). I love the idea of a project making such women the heroes. I loved even more the way in which this hero is an unwilling one. It's a type often used for male heroes, who tell their own stories and downplay their adventures. It is left up to the reader to decide whether or not the "true" story is a heroic one. For me, I think it is. A woman whose children are stolen from her sets out to get them back, and along the way, inspires other women to get their children back, ends up leading an army to conquer the raiders, and ultimately wins. It would have been tempting to make this woman so heroic that her enemies ended up being demonic and one-sided, but that isn't the case here, either. War itself is given a pretty good look, and it's not a look that is an easy one. There aren't simple answers like war is bad or religion is good. I will be thinking about this book for a good, long time. Expect quotes in days to come.

Garden Spells
by Sarah Addison Allen
I don't often buy books in bookstores without a personal recommendation from a friend, but this one jumped out at me and I loved how the magic worked into the everyday life of the people involved. It's not vampires and werewolves. It's a very different magical system that feels like it could be real.
The Magicians and Mrs Quent
Galen Beckett
This is such a difficult novel to describe. The flap admits to the imitation of Dickens, Austen and Bronte, but the story is very much its own. I love romance, and I love the Regency period. But this is really more of a strange fantasy with bits and pieces of familiar things thrown together and shaken up just to confuse and delight you. Enjoy.

Transformation
by
Carol Berg
A heart-breaking story of a slave and a master and how they come to love each other. Not your every-day love-story. If you want a more traditional love story with lots of wonderful fantasy and angst, read Son of Avonar, Berg’s latest.
Moon Called
by Patricia Briggs
I feel a bit resistant to the standard kick-ass heroine. I don't know why. I like strong female characters. I like mystery. I like fantasy. I loved Buffy. But it often feels a bit formulaic to me and like it's trying too hard. Also, I don't love edgy without a hint of softness. Mercy Thompson is one of the truly finely drawn kick-ass heroines in Urban Fantasy today. I was skeptical about the love triangle(s), but I think she's not stupid about it. Also, I love Stefan.

Servant of a Dark God
by John Brown
I know John and he says that this book is what came out of his life as a farmer, wondering what would happen if humans were farmed the way that other animals are, and who the farmers would be--and what they would want. That's one way to pitch the story, but I think it is also the story of a young boy and his family and what they do when in distress. It is also the story of a father who is forced to choose between his son and his religion. And the story of a mother who is a demon and tries to protect her children anyway. This is a rich story, told well.
Cordelia's Honor
by Lois McMaster Bujold
I never get tired of rereading this book. I love the refrains at the end of each section, and it's both a wonderful spy novel and a wonderful romance. Plus, you can't beat the way that Bujold has a woman be a captain, and a woman, both at the same time.

Young Miles
by
Lois McMaster Bujold
Can you tell how much I like Bujold yet? This is the first book in the wonderful Miles Vorkosigan series, about the twitchy little dwarf who takes over the universe. Or almost.
The Curse of Chalion
by
Lois McMaster Bujold
See? I think Bujold is probably the best writer alive today. I love the way that she uses religion so honestly in this book. These gods are real, and the way they use their servants so badly is real, too. Plus, of course, romance!

Storm Front
by Jim Butcher
I am so addicted to this series! I love how at different places in the book, the glitch with electronics is a huge pain in the ass. Dangerous, too. Life-threatening. And then other moments in the book, it turns out to save him. Not the big climax, mind you. That has to happen with Harry's own innate intelligence and need to continue to fight evil. But the problem with electronics was so balanced. I love how character and world mesh to perfectly. I felt as though I have been dropped in the middle of a world and that I could go forward or backwards in time in it and be just as satisfied either way. There's stories everywhere here, and you just get a glimpse now and then. Can't wait to read more!
Ender's Game
by
Orson Scott Card
One of the great writers of speculative fiction and a personal friend of mine. This is the novel that brought him fame (and deservedly so). But it's more than the story of a boy who goes to war and becomes the general of all humanity's spaceships. Read it again, if you've forgotten the ending.

Pastwatch
by
Orson Scott Card
This is a book that made me think very differently about Christopher Columbus.
Seventh Son
by
Orson Scott Card
This is the first of the Alvin Maker series, about a magical, historical America and the UnMaker that lurks to destroy it.

The Devil You Know
by Mike Carey
I went on a quest in the summer of 09 to read the first book in every major paranormal series recommend in Locus Magazine. This is the one I liked the most. It is dark, but it felt so real to me. That is, there are real consequences for having magic, and they aren't easy. The main character can not only see ghosts, but he can send them on to their next life, or to oblivion, he isn't really sure which. When he is asked to exorcise a ghost from a library, he thinks the job will be easy, but he begins to sympathize with her and realizes that she has a reason for hanging around and he wants to figure out what it is, even when his employers fire him.
Child of Fire
by Harry Connolly
This book was originally meant to be my "waiting for the next Harry Dresden book" fix, but something happened along the way. On the one hand, this is no Harry Dresden. On the other, this might actually be better. I like dark, and this is dark. Very dark. Children burning dark. I also liked the conflicted hero. He is darker than Harry, and the action felt a little more real, the consequences harder hitting. I only wish Harry could write these faster.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union
by Michael Chabon
I'm sure Michael Chabon doesn't need me to plug his books. Nonetheless, I loved this book, so I'm going to do it anyway. It's a science fiction novel with a heart of characterization. I'm not always a fan of alternate history because there can be so much backstory and I don't like to wade through it. Chabon handles it deftly, I think, and I wanted to read the sequel. Please, Michael, write one.
The Mirror of Her Dreams
by
Stephen R. Donaldson
I know, I know. This novel has been accused of sexism at its worst in sf. But I still love it, for the story of the magic and the story of the king.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
by N.K. Jemisin
I am often annoyed by adult fantasy and how long it takes for the story to start and for me to feel like I know what is going on. This novel has a very complex back story, but it is handled so superbly I hardly noticed. I loved the main character and her dark past, and I really loved the gods.
Daughter of the Forest
by
Juliet Marillier
The fairy tale of the seven swans is one of my favorites, and Juliet Marillier makes it come to life. To live silently, while the man you love believes you will betray him, is heartbreakingly real here. And so is the girl's love for her brothers.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by
Susanna Clarke
A book that feels very real, about a historical England that has very real magic in it. You also to get meet a cast of characters that you thought you knew, but here they are in a new and different version of themselves. Midshipman's Hope
by David Feintuch
I read this series in a gulp and was astonished to discover that it had spent so long unpublished. A great story about one boy’s journey to manhood and the terrible choices—unforgivable, really— that he must make along the way. David Feintuch died in 2006. A loss to us all.

Jaran
by
Kate Elliott
All right, I'm a sucker for romances, and this one has some fun elements of fantasy and science fiction. But what I liked the most was the backstory about nomadic tribes that are matrilineal instead of patriarchal. Seeing how that would play out in an entire society was very interesting. And then Elliott takes it a step further in subsequent novels. It's the key to understanding the aliens' culture, as well.
The Patriot Witch
by C.C. Finlay
This is a revisioning of the American Revolution with magic, but it is also a chance to relook at the demonized Founding Fathers or alternately, the Lionized ones. I liked the author's ability to show a balanced world, characters who are good and bad in parts. I fell into this world and didn't want to come home.

The Assassin's Apprentice
by
Robin Hobb
A story about a young boy coming to himself, and then losing himself. Also a love story. Two love stories--at least. Also the story of a king losing his kingdom. The story of a son giving all he has for his father. A story of a boy with forbidden magic. A story of a boy who dies and comes back to life. A story of a boy and his wolf. A story I could not forget.
Lightborn
by Tricia Sullivan
This is a book that, like much of the best science fiction written in the adult world, is hard to get into. The language is thrown at the reader and you have to make sense of it, like you have been sent to a foreign language class where no one will speak English and you have to figure things out in context. But the short chapters and the clarity of the broken relationships between adults and children is so real that you keep reading, anyway. That part makes sense, and like Healey's book, is where the heart of this deep book lies. The metaphor here that mattered most to me was about the ways in which adults are changing the world and then leaving our children to fix it. I also liked how the ending did not take any easy way out. I have more to say about this book on Wednesday, talking about suspense in writing. The story is about an AI that gets out of control and starts taking over the minds of those it can get to by the “light,” but that makes it sound so flat. It is also a story about “the Fall,” with all the Biblical allusions that you can think of, none of them obvious or trite.

Sailing to Sarantium
by
Guy Gavriel Kay
Another alternate world with magic story, but this one is set during the reign of the Roman Empire. Kay is known for his wordsmithing, but he is also a great storyteller.
Shades of Milk and Honey
by Mary Robinette Kowal
I liked this book and I hated it. Mostly I hated it because I wanted to have written it. In fact, I have a book that will probably never be published because it is too similar to this one, a kind of homage to Austen with magic. I was skeptical going in, but it worked. It felt like an Austen novel. The development and ending felt like Austen, if she wrote with magic. I felt satisfied, as if a new Austen book had been discovered.

Under Heaven
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Again, Guy Gavriel Kay doesn't need me to recommend his book. But this is one of the best ones. I loved the female characters in it, how they felt like they were real women of the time period, not modern women, and how they were still strong, despite their limited choices. I loved the idea of ghosts that acted in this way. And of course, what Kay does best is still there, the sweeping historical canvas on which he sets his characters.
The Lies of Locke Lamora
by Scott Lynch
This is a complicated adult fantasy novel and the heroes are all thieves. The magic system is complex, and so are all the cultural artficacts around it. But I was captivated from the first, and I wanted the heroes to win. The author did not give me what I wanted.

Rosemary and Rue
by Seanan Maguire
I listened to this as an audio book read by Mary Robinette Kowall. It was lovely. Yes, it's another urban fantasy. But this one has an interesting twist. October Daye's lost fifteen years trapped and her daughter has grown up without her, and she's part fay, but it's not necessarily to her advantage. The fay hate her, and she knows too much to be human. I love the tension in her character and the well drawn world. The stories in the series are good, too.
A Game of Thrones
by
George R. R. Martin
This is a book about twisted minds, written by a man with a twisted mind. And it is wonderful. So long as you are not squeamish and do not throw books across the room when your favorite characters die and the antagonists win—over and over again. All the old fantasy conventions are set on their head here. You think life in medieval times was simpler? You want to go back to it? You don’t. You think dragons are wonderful creatures? Well, maybe not. But there is a reason for them.

Dog Days
by John Levitt
I can't get enough of Harry Dresden. If you are like me, this book is for you. I'm not saying it's an imitation. It's not. Imitations are rarely any good, anyway. This is its own story, with its own hero. But it has many of the same draws. I like how it starts with the feeling that I am in the middle of the hero's life, not at the beginning, but that there is a lot of depth for me to discover. I love the characters. I love the magic. And I had to keep reading to the end. A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
If you haven't read this sf classic, you have missed something extraordinary. No other dystopian future means anything without this as context. And if they tell you the old sf writers didn't know how to do characterization, they were wrong.

Devices and Desires
by K.J. Parker
I don't even know what to call this book. It feels like fantasy, but there is no magic in it and it's obvious the research is impeccable. It's a little like Guy Gavriel Kay, I suppose. But darker, with no redemption. And I liked it anyway. I liked this story of a city at siege and the look inside the characters involved, the traitors and the heroes. It inspired me to write a story of my own, where there was a hole left open, and that doesn't happen often. Read a page and you'll be hooked.
Circle of Enemies
by Harry Connolly
This was a dark book. I'm trying to remember if the other books in this series have been as dark. Maybe they were, but this surprised me. I think because for Ray Lilly, the narrator and protagonist, the people who were dying in this book were people he knew, his family, though not biologically. It's also dark because you find out a lot more about Ray in this book, and his past isn't a pretty one. You want to think of Ray as a hero, and he is. But he's a dark, twisted hero. And in order to make him more heroic, you end up seeing more of the people in charge of the Twenty Palace Society and see how much worse than him they are. As always, I really like the inventiveness of the world and the magic of this series. The ghost knife is a fascinating and very simple construct. In this book, we are also introduced to the “spell books” which are not at all what you might have imagined them to be. And the aliens/demons that can be reached through these books are truly interesting and alien. Impatient with humanity in a way that I would think creatures with real power would be, also uninterested in morality. If you are missing this series, you are missing the most interesting revision of urban fantasy around.

The Deed of Paksenarrion
by
Elizabeth Moon
The story of a woman warrior written by a woman who knows what she is talking about. The discussion of sword fighting here wasn't based on the movies.
The Speed of Dark
by
Elizabeth Moon
In the future, they can cure autism. But if you had lived with it all your life, would you choose to change?

Remnant Population
by
Elizabeth Moon
The best sf about a grandmother you will ever read. What happens when you are left alone on a planet because you are too stubborn to leave? What happens when you discover there is a native population, after all?
His Majesty's Dragon
by Naomi Novik
I can't believe I missed this series for so many years. On the other hand, it was wonderful to be able to read it all in a stretch. Novik does a wonderful job of revamping Horatio Hornblower with a dragon to boot. It was so fun for me to watch her use the same story elements, but twist them for her own purposes. I love Laurence more than I ever loved Hornblower, and you get Temeraire, to boot. I also love how the romance is drawn out, bit by bit. Real life stuff.

The Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss
This is one of those books that made me laugh and cry, almost in the same sentence. It is a detailed, intense description of a hero's early life. Do not miss it!
The Arrival
by Shaun Tan
I discovered this book in 2008 when an illustrator friend of mine pointed it out as "the book that should have won the Caldecott" except for the fact that the author/illustrator did not qualify. I opened the book and found black and white pencil drawings, which are my favorite and the thing I lust over most. In another life, I wish I could be an illustrator, and if I was, I would wish I had done this book. If only I had a little more time in this life, I might go take some classes and illustrate that graphic novel I have waiting for me. Anyway, this is about a magical America that never was. Wordless, but you will spend so long looking at the pictures you will feel you have read a novel.

Doomsday Book
by Connie Willis
"Necrophilically" funny! About a girl who travels back in time to the days of the plague. She gets sick herself, but it's not the plague. There's a disease she's brought from the future, and it's killing everyone then, too!
Bellwether
by Connie Willis
This is a funny, little romance. But for me, it's a book that made me think entirely differently about fads. And about the sheep who follow them. Also, hula hoops.

All Clear
by Connie Willis
OK, so now that the other half of this book is out, I can safely recommend it without people complaining. It's not a sequel. It's just that the book was too long to be published in one binding. And I honestly could not see many places where I thought I could have cut it. It's a sprawling, wandering story and I loved every minute of it. I loved the tribute to the ordinary people of the London Blitz in a way I cannot explain. Just love love!
The King's Peace
by
Jo Walton
A realistic retelling of the story of Guinevere and King Arthur. Jo Walton has a wonderful voice and a clean, perfect, precise writing style.

Life Lode
by Jo Walton
This is a book I cannot recommend to everyone, but it is a very interesting, well-written book about what the world would be like if everything were different, if marriages could happen in all sorts of assortments and taking lovers was an open business, and magic affected the time space continuum. Jo says that all of her fantasy is actually science fiction, and this is really interesting to think about.
Farthing
by Jo Walton
This is one of those haunting stories that you don't want to get to the end of, not because you love the story so much (although you do) but because you know it's not going to end well. This is a story of what might have happened if the US had never entered WWII and Britain had made a pact with Hitler to give him the continent and leave Britain in peace. Only what happens then to the Jews? And to those who love Jews?
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Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2017 all rights reserved.
Last revised November 3, 2017.