Book Radar: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

I’m in the middle of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s mannerpunk novel in preparation for an author interview. The Beautiful Ones (St. Martin’s Press), released this week, is quite different from Moreno-Garcia’s contemporary work. I’d describe it as Vanity Fair with telekinesis. Manipulation is the major theme: of objects, and of feelings. The imaginary country the author conjures has elements of the Belle Epoque-era France; you can see the ormolu clocks, rococo architecture and hear the frou-frou rustle of silk. It’s billed as “romantic” but a Machiavellian undercurrent of social climbing runs through the novel. Plus, kudos for the allusion to a Prince song.

Beautiful Ones

 

BACK COVER COPY:

Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society in hopes of landing a suitable husband. But Antonina is telekinetic, and strange events in her past have made her the subject of malicious gossip and hardly a sought-after bride. Now, under the tutelage of her cousin’s wife, she is finally ready to shed the past and learn the proper ways of society.

But Antonina, who prefers her family’s country home to the glamorous ballrooms of the wealthy, finds it increasingly difficult to conform to society’s ideals for women, especially when she falls under the spell of the dazzling telekinetic performer Hector Auvray. As their romance blossoms, and he teaches her how to hone and control her telekinetic gift, she can’t help but feel a marriage proposal is imminent. Little does Antonina know that Hector and those closest to her are hiding a devastating secret that will crush her world and force her to confront who she really is and what she’s willing to sacrifice.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Warrior Who Carried Life by Geoff Ryman. A classic of genderqueer speculative fiction.

The Warrior Who Carried LifeThe Warrior Who Carried Life by Geoff Ryman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Cara’s mother had always said something very strange about dust: that it was the remains of the dead, and should be respected. “The air is full of other people,” she had told Cara. The dust in the sunlight looked like stars.”

The Warrior Who Carried Life is Geoff Ryman’s first novel, which has been reprinted by the Canadian Press Chizine. It’s a darkly mythic novel that combines the Epic of Gilgamesh with dashes of Celtic and Indian mythology.

A young woman whose family has been dishonored by invaders undertakes a vengeance-based quest to oust the evil from her land. To do so, she magically transforms herself into a male warrior who is nearly invincible. Along the way, she discovers the true nature of the invaders and her quest eventually leads her to the land of death. The novel is drenched in magic, not unlike Tanith Lee’s Tales From the Flat Earth series—there are fabulous beasts, wise women, immortality, and miracles. TWWCL engages and subverts mythic tropes left and right, recalling Samuel R. Delany’s classic novel The Einstein Intersection. Despite the magical overlay, this is a brutal story, full of shocking violence.

Many of the tropes and themes that ballast Ryman’s oeuvre are here. The violence and war of the imaginary land shares a tenuous connection with other Ryman works that chronicle and examine the horrors faced by Kampuchea (Cambodia)—e.g., The Unconquered Country & The King’s Last Song. It is also a deeply feminist and genderqueer novel, with a transcendent lesbian love story at its spiritual center.

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BOOK REVIEW: Kill the Dead, by Tanith Lee. Tarot-inspired Gothic fantasy

Kill the DeadKill the Dead by Tanith Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 1980 novel KILL THE DEAD is a perfect introduction to Tanith Lee’s writing in the Gothic mode. The short novel has all of her hallmarks: two tortured Byronic anti-heroes, a beautiful witch antagonist and a plot that is full of twists that allude to and subvert literary tropes. The novel concerns the mordantly humored exorcist Parl Dro, and his dealings with a hapless musician and a vengeful female lich (an undead sorceress). The prose is lovely and musical, full of rich imagery that incorporates Tarot symbolism throughout the text. The dialogue is is full of quips and dry humor. Some of Lee’s best work is at the novella length, and KILL THE DEAD, reissued as an ebook by Immanion Press, is an excellent example.

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BOOK REVIEW: City of Bones by Martha Wells. Proto-New Weird Fantasy

City of BonesCity of Bones by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An earlier entry in the Martha Wells oeuvre, City of Bones nicely balances her intricate, almost mystery-styled plots with her imaginative world-building. It’s admirable how the author manages a certain baroque richness to the prose, while maintaining a fairly action-packed, complex plot. The setting is a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy world with a rigid caste system and strange rituals. Two outsiders stumble upon a mysterious artifact, and ultimately, a sinister world-threatening plan. The magic is magical and weird, and the suspense “pulse-pounding.” In a way, City of Bones fits into the New Weird aesthetic championed by China Mieville, in that it’s a little bit fantasy, a little bit horror, with a dash of science fiction and mystery thrown in for good measure. Fans of Mieville and Tanith Lee should check this book out.

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BOOK REVIEW: In The Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss. Postmodern Gothic fairytales.

In the Forest of Forgetting-Tangerine-lilac.indd

Since my colleague Theodora Goss announced a new ebook edition of her debut collection, In The Forest of Forgetting, I thought I’d share the review I did when the book was first released.

These delicately crafted, literary fantasies draw from Victorian morality stories and fairytales. The language is spare and considered, the tone dry spiked with mordant humor. Goss discreetly and elegantly updates the Gothic tale for postmodern times. Her “Emily Gray” stories concern a governess who grants children’s deepest wishes, at a terrible price. Three of the Emily Gray tales are here. The title story turns a breast cancer patient’s life into a magical fable. Other stories take place in Budapest, and have a flavor of Central European magical realism (“The Rapid Advance of Sorrow”), while “A Rose in Twelve Petals” fractures Sleeping Beauty into twelve different view points, including that of the spinning wheel that pricks the princess. Goss’s stories have dark themes, but she is too graceful a writer to be considered Gothic in the classic sense. Her painterly, humorous characters come alive, and her fantastical ideas are grounded in her character’s psyches.