If there ever was a better time to get lost in a book, it’s now. Go ahead and use the time you’re saving on showering/dressing/commuting to tackle the backlog of novels in your queue. And/or if you’re looking for some reading material to get your mind off our stressful reality or to work through it, here are a few titles (out now) that I’ve read recently that I recommend.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
(112 pages. Published March 24th 2020 by Tor Books) 4 out of 5.
An utterly spellbinding novella that packs such a punch in its 112 pages. It’s the kind of story you have to read and experience for yourself. The Empress of Salt and Fortune was as gorgeous in its telling as it was rich in its setting. In a nutshell, we hear the story of an exiled princess in a Chinese-like high-fantasy dynasty and we see how she got power in a male-dominated world. But again, the story is subtle and prefers to keep a mild face throughout.
The greatest achievement of the book for me was the friendships. This book proved that stories can be both short and impactful. we get to spend so little time with these characters, and yet we learn so much about them. we learn about their hopes and deepest desires, their fears and dreams. The cleric Chih, who meets Rabbit, the former handmaiden, bonds with her profoundly, even in such a short time. Every sentence that their timeline is on the page is meaningful, even as Rabbit recounts the “real action” of the past. Rabbit and In-Yo, handmaiden and empress, form a bond that almost defies belief, given the class divide – but as women wronged and scorned by the society they live within, they are absolute equals. Their revenge on the patriarchal power structure, those last few paragraphs, were amazing. I didn’t expect to invest so heavily in a novella-length book. It is the kind of story I could read again and again, and notice something different each time.
The Bards Blade by Brian D. Anderson
(432 pages. Published January 28th 2020 by Tor Books) 3.5 out of 5.
Having a bard as a the protagonist is such a nice change. The Bard’s Blade is the first book in The Sorcerer’s Song series by Brian Anderson is a captivating and thought-provoking modern fantasy epic and the biggest catch is that it plays out like a fantasy-adventure game from NES. As I followed the characters on their journey, it got a little nostalgic – like I was following Link in The Legend of Zelda with a Balisari! What it lacks in grandiose battles and hack-n-slashery, it makes up for in engrossing storytelling.
The Bard’s Blade is told through two main characters, Lem and Mariyah. Lem, an immensely talented and renowned musician who finds himself fleeing his homeland to protect everyone he loves; and Mariyah, the daughter of a wine maker who loves Lem too much keep herself from following him. They are set to marry and carry on living a quiet life in Vylari, which is protected from the outside world, sealed in by magic. That is, until a stranger arrives, crossing a barrier which has been in place for centuries, long before any of the current residents were born. With him he brings a dark message of a prophecy foretold. One that could mean the end of the world. For pure and perfect escapism, it doesn’t get any better than this, especially if you’re looking for a contemporary fantasy told in an old-school flowing style to whiz you away.
Otaku by Chris Kluwe
(352 pages. Published March 3rd 2020 by Tor Books) 3.5 out of 5
I’d love to have a beer (or other beverage) with Chris Kluwe. You know, just conversate, shoot the breeze and chat about his voice in the world. You know… Young, strong, no-nonsense, intelligent, pissed, but optimistic. I am a fan of writing that gives the reader insight into someone else’s perspective. I can get that from social media, from online columns and articles, or what he has done here with Otaku.
Ashley “Ash” is a superstar in Infinite Game, a virtual gaming platform. After becoming well known, she is recognized and tracked outside of the game in the real world. Ash ends up uncovering a conspiracy that threatens her life and those that she loves. The protagonist draws masterfully from Kluwe’s experience within video games; surviving the tormentors and detractors, internalizing the drive to excel, having the willingness to push the envelope, and leaning heavily upon the bonds built among long-time friends and allies. You feel that he’s been there, and really understands Ash (the protagonist) and her struggles.
The world he has built feels (at times) too real, brimming over with that important piece of all good science fiction – the element of actual potentiality. Expanding upon societal trends and actions, layering in choices and technological advancements, but nothing outside the realm of possibility. It’s a masterful dystopian take on the future of gaming culture should it fail to evolve past the racist, sexist, and troll-ridden underbelly that ruins online gaming experiences for so many. This book doesn’t shy away from graphic violence, language, and difficult topics like sexual assault. It is a book about strong women in a world that do not appreciate them. It’s gritty. It’s raw. It’s authentic. A delicious mashup up of sci-fi medias, such as Ender’s Game, Neuromancer, and Ready Player One. Only a bit more brutal. A page-turning coming-of age-tech thriller with something to say.