Maybe you saw the Jimmy Kimmel short last week. He asks folks on the street to name a book, any book. And they can’t. One guy says, “The Lion King.” Or did he say “The Lying King”? Either way, we’re meant to say “Ouch.”
Maybe you felt a frisson of horror.
I know I did. I suppose humiliation sells. Bully for you, then, Jimmy.
The day I saw the clip, or the half of it I could stomach, my pal Linda and I stopped at our favorite local bookstore. I had just finished the audio version of Brideshead Revisited, and wanted to see if I could find a print copy. And Linda needed “something light, for summer.” And then she giggled and said it had to be “…something by a woman. Or a Scandinavian.”
Reader, I bought it.
On the way in, I spotted a vintage hardcover in the window, I Love Books, by John D. Snider. It had an irresistibly, deliciously sexist cover. An uncomfortably dressed, proper-looking fella sits in a comfortable chair, reading, while a woman in an uncomfortable chair, knitting, gazes adoringly at him.
(One imagines her thinking, “Shoot. When is he going to finish that thing? I’ve knitted five sweaters already.”)
I asked the gal at the counter whether I could have a peek, and she rummaged around behind a curtain until she found it.
“I Love Books,” she read, admiring the cover. Then she flipped it open and checked the price. “$5.50.”
She handed it to me, and I cautiously had a sniff. It hadn’t been in a smoker’s home, so it passed the first test.
Then I whisked the pages, that move that is like shuffling a deck of cards, and caught that pleasing whiff of old-timey books. Oh, boy.
And! It cost less than you could spend on a fancy-pants latte, which is my litmus test.
First published first in 1942 and reprinted several times, this revised edition came out in 1945. None of the names rang any bells—the publisher, the cover design fella, or the author. Since I’d forced myself and my children to read Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, I was surprised that this one hadn’t had a wide enough reception to get some traction.
On the first page Mr. Snider implores us: “A few cents’ outlay will get almost any one of the vital books, and it is a marvel that any young man or woman today should neglect to gather some of the world’s best volumes and cultivate a taste for them. Books are of the people, by the people, for the people. They are no longer a luxury; they are a necessity.”
O-ho! Not just knitting for you, young ladies. Young men and women! And! A shout-out to democracy!
Obviously, I had to buy it.
At home I asked the Google Lady about the publisher and realized why we’ve forgotten dear Mr. Snider. Review and Herald Publishing is affiliated with the Seventh-Day Adventists, so likely had a limited audience. The only reference I could find to the cover designer, T.K. Martin, concerned his association with the artist whose paintings are “all over” Mormon churches.
I couldn’t find much information about Mr. Snider himself. Although I did find that he had written several articles for Ministry Magazine in the 1930s.
In 1936, Read or Perish:
“No religious leader can justify his ignorance of, nor his indifference to, the books that his people are reading on the ground of the preeminent importance of his own specialized reading.”
We could cut “religious,” stick with “leader,” end at “ignorance,” and the thesis and exhortation would be sadly apt for today. Also, I get the feeling I’d have enjoyed having Mr. Snider and his presumptive wife over for dinner.
Read or Perish was perhaps a follow-up to his Golden Moments article from 1934: “The economic conditions which have necessitated the release of certain of our workers have increased the duties of others, making it more difficult than ever for them to find adequate time for reading and meditation.”
Again. Eerily timely.
I Love Books is long, over 500 pages, and divvied up into four sections: “Why We Should Read,” “What We Should Read,” “How We Should Read,” and “When We Should Read.” Which is a lotta “shoulds.” The structure and content are practical and encouraging, and while he does point to moral fortitude and whatnot, there is none of the particular type of religious language in the book that we see in his Ministry articles.
But he was consistently flowery. And Mr. Snider, bless him, was a master of stringing together quotations and folksy anecdotes. Gloriously! Nearly every page delivers a gem like this one:
“Lowell tells us that desultory reading communicates as little intelligence as the messages that run along the telegraph wires do to birds perched upon them. Blackie says that such reading resembles a little dog running about a lawn, sniffing at everything but catching nothing. Indiscriminate, omnivorous swallowing of books is just as sure to cause soul dyspepsia as his thoughtless gluttony to bring indigestion.”
Who wouldn’t sign up immediately to join a Desultory Reading Group? Pretty much all the book groups I’ve been involved with have been partially or entirely desultory—a word I especially like to hear in the voice of Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape.
In the car that day, heading home from the bookstore, I read aloud a few tidbits from I Love Books.
“Okay. Nicole. Do you really think that a person who is not a reader is going to be encouraged to start reading because of that book?! No.”
But it sure is delightful. And I’ve always said that the best reason I could think of for reading as much as possible, for education generally, is the getting of more jokes.
Is it a problem that Americans aren’t reading actual books? Perhaps. Maybe even probably. At the very least, the non-readers are missing out on, well, delight.
A playful mind is facile, can unpack complexity. Which is what I think educators might be getting at, ultimately and ironically, when they’re droning on about critical thinking.
The Jimmy Kimmel short asks us to glory in how stupid Americans are. Wholly aside from the fact that it is entirely possible to become a responsible, educated citizen without reading actual books, it is gravely irresponsible to celebrate ignorance.
Mr. Snider was talking about books in particular, but it was 1945. Curiosity, engagement, access to education, and, sure, books, are “…no longer a luxury; they are a necessity.”
A few days ago on Twitter, a sage piece of advice appeared on Twitter. By age 35, we were told, we should have saved up twice our salaries, to prepare for our retirement. This is, to many of us, laughable, but it did give rise to a meme suggesting more achievable goals. Here are some of the best bookish “By Age 35” responses for your enjoyment.
By age 35, you should stop assessing art by its aggregate score on some website.
by age 35 you should have a shitload of books. some of them you have read and are too sentimental to give away. others (you know in your heart) you will never read and yet you will keep these as well. all of these books have followed you through multiple moves.
There are a lot of podcasts out there. A LOT. We all know that the best podcasts are from Book Riot, but it can be hard to know which one is the best for you! Luckily, we have a handy-dandy quiz to help you dive into the best in Book Riot podcast options.
What if Europeans never came to America? What if Germany won World War II? What if there were magicians during the Napoleonic War? Or zombies during the U.S. Civil War? These are the kinds of tantalizing questions that alternate history books explore. Set in our world, but not quite, these books give us a way to look at our past—and sometimes our present—with fresh eyes.
The book and book series listed below are just a few examples of the many creative explorations of history that are out there. Some are set in the real world, but in a version where a past event turned out differently. And some introduce a fantasy element and consider how history would be different if those fantasies were real. But all of them hinge on the question, “What if…?”
The Black Plague devastated the population of Europe. But what if it had been worse? This novel imagines centuries of history in a world where 99 percent of Europeans died, leaving Muslim and Chinese cultures in control of the world.
Set in a version of 1597 in which King Philip of Spain rules Britain, this novel tells what happen when William Shakespeare is given a chance to write something political for a change, something that might rouse his people to rise up in support of their imprisoned queen and against the Inquisition that oppresses them.
This steampunk novel presents an alternate history in which a group of British philanthropists buy up land in Africa to create Everfair, a safe haven for Africans fleeing King Leopold’s rule in the Congo and formerly-enslaved people who were able to return from America. The book chronicles the history of this new society.
Many, many alternate history ask how the world would be different if Germany had won World War II. And The Man in the High Castle is among the most well-known books that tackle that question. Set in a version of America that is ruled by Japan and Germany, with a neutral zone in between, this book is gets a little loopy, but it’s a classic of the genre.
As spokesman for the “America First” committee, Charles Lindbergh spoke out forcefully against American intervention in World War II, and some believe that he was actually sympathetic to the Nazis. This book considers what would have happened if he’d defeated Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election.
The Small Change Trilogy by Jo Walton
The first novel, Farthing, is set in 1949, in a version of England that made peace with Hitler instead of continuing the war. The novel begins with a murder, and most of it reads like a straightforward mystery. The subsequent novels, Ha’Penny and Half a Crown, follow Inspector Carmichael, the detective who investigated the Farthing murder, as he watches England plunge further into darkness.
Michael Chabon presents a different take on life after World War II as he imagines a Jewish district established in Sitka, Alaska, when the newly-established state of Israel fell. Sixty years later, the district is supposed to revert back to the Alaskans.
This YA series, which begins with Naughts and Crosses, is set in a 21st-century version of Great Britain in which, centuries earlier, Africans enslaved Europeans. Now, slavery has been abolished but segregation remains and racial mixing is forbidden.
Fantasy-Based Alternate History Books
Spiritwalker Series by Kate Elliott
Beginning with Cold Magic, this steampunk series is set in a version of the 19th century in which the Ice Age never ended, changing the balance of power across the globe. Mages and spirits and dragons also exist in this version of our world.
When magic returns to England during the Napoleonic wars, two magicians rise to power, and their actions change the course of history. Susanna Clarke not only presents an alternate version of history in which magic is real, she writes in the style of the 19th century and presents a complete world (with footnotes!).
Temeraire Series by Naomi Novick
It’s the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons! Beginning with His Majesty’s Dragon, this seven-volume series initially sticks close to actual history, except that there are dragons, but gradually the dragon present creates power shifts that differ from what really happened.
Colson Whitehead reimagines the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad that could take enslaved people to freedom. Cora and Caesar board the underground train in Georgia and make stops at various points in the South where they encounter other forms of oppression that existed at different points in American history.
In this version of American history, the Civil War is disrupted by the rise of zombies. Slavery as we understand it ends, but young Black and Native Americans are recruited to fight the zombies and protect wealthy whites.
This novel has a physicist and a historian teaming up to use a time machine to prevent the birth of Hitler. In doing so, they create their own alternate history in which there’s no Hitler, but anti-Semitism and fascism don’t disappear.
Tao Trilogy by Wesley Chu
Beginning with The Lives of Tao, this series imagines that aliens landed on Earth thousands of years ago and have been enacting their own civil war by taking over human bodies. This time, one of the aliens takes over the body of an out-of-shape IT pro who must now become a spy.
What other alternate history books would you add to this list?
I’m sorry. I wish there was more for me to say in this situation, but the only thing I can really think of to say is “I’m sorry.”
Remember when I first picked you up? Your cover was so beautifully adorned with gold filigree and embossed letters. The cover quote about your book was so compelling. I can’t resist a good quote from a well-loved author. I knew right away that we would be friends and that I would be so happy to have spent my last $25 on you.
However, that’s not how the tables turned. I’m sorry I didn’t find you interesting enough to get past 100 pages. I should mention that I did get to 100 pages of you, but there just wasn’t enough for me to continue reading.
I really wanted to like you. I started off so hopeful that your words would carry me through the rest of the book. I thought we would ride off into the sunset of finished novels. You would have gotten five stars from me just like the others who gave you five stars. Alas, things don’t always work out the way it seems.
It’s not you. It’s me. I’m the one at fault here. I’m the one that can’t take your nuanced storytelling and feel enamored, enthralled, enraptured, or excited. I might be in the minority of people who didn’t like you, so always remember that I’m just one voice amongst many who did.
Perhaps in another life or in another few months I’ll feel compelled to pick you up again. Knowing me, I always give a book a second chance. It’s not the end of the road for us, but this is definitely a short stop. I need a break. I have many other books to read and many other adventures to take. This might be the end of our journey for now, but I know deep down that you have merits. You belong in this world and you belong to be read by someone who would fairly review you. Someone will lovingly pick up your dust jacket and feel like they found new life in your pages. Sadly, this person isn’t me.
And you’re the type of book that deserves a thorough read. You deserve to be reviewed by someone who will truly appreciate you; someone who will give you the five-star review that you’ve earned.
So for now, I say goodbye. Maybe we’ll see each other again in the future and maybe you’ll be added to my pile of books to donate. In either way, you’ll definitely be read, even if the reader isn’t me.
We all know bookworms love nothing better than to show off their love of books in every way possible. Mix in some beautiful enamel pins for your collar or backpack and it’s the perfect match! Here are 25 bookish enamel pins you definitely need in your life. Trust me, they’re too adorable to resist.
I’m in a bit of a reading funk. Wavering between a book slump and a book flare (thanks to The Librarian is In for a term for that) depending on the day. Luckily, I’ve had a steady stream of library holds and book club picks to get me through.
Lately, I’ve been intrigued about getting back into tarot reading and other witchy past times, especially as a way of subverting the patriarchy. This book came recommended by one of my favourite feminist podcasts (Secret Feminist Agenda) and I’m really excited to dive into it.
I was lucky enough to attend the Festival of Literary Diversity in early May there were a number of great authors in attendance, including Cherie Dimaline. So, obviously, I picked up a copy of this new Canada Reads finalist and had it signed by the author.
This is my cross country book club’s latest pick and I LOVED it. In particular, I found the last 150 pages to be incredibly gripping; which is what led to me having a reading flare over the last few days.
In The Queue (What’s Next)
Spell On Wheels By KAte Leth, Megan Levens, And Marissa LouIse
I totally forgot about this series until this week. Thanks to Goodreads for recommending the trade paperback to me and reminding me about it. The waitlist for it from the library was incredibly short, which was both exciting and disappointing. More people should hop onboard for this witchy new series.
This post on romance novels to read is from Silvana Reyes, a Mexican book blogger. She enjoys all types of sub-genres, but loves a good love story. Romance fiction is her heart and joy and you might find her screaming about book releases on her Twitter account.
There is something about reality TV that I find fascinating. Because my eyes can’t look away whenever they’re on. I know, I know—that is the point of a reality TV show. They have to appeal to many different people and actually have to snatch your attention for a while. It’s not that hard to have my attention. They only have to have a competition, drama, or anything fashion or wedding-related.
You can find many books set inside a reality TV competition or a show. I probably don’t know anything about the behind-the-scenes part of reality TV, but I know it’s not what it seems. When I read these books, I found out a bit more about what goes behind the cameras and spotlights. And it’s always fascinating to me. In these romance books to read you might find producers who will create problems or drama to get high ratings, romances you love that won’t be real, enemies who are really a couple, and competition that will try and sabotage you.
Like Dancing with the Stars, Take the Lead follows a dancing competition, pairing up professional dancers and celebrities. In this case, it’s exactly about that! Gina Morales, a professional dancer, thinks this season is hers to win it. When she meets her partner, Stone, star of the hit Alaskan wilderness reality show, things might be looking up.
The Bachelorette is always so entertaining to me, and Insert Groom Here is a perfect fit for this recommendation. You can bet there is a find-a-groom type of reality show happening in the book, just like the real show. But instead of finding someone in one of the contestants, Eva Ward, the heroine of the story, might be finding someone who is working behind the scenes…
If you thought the #RoyalWedding was beautiful and wanted to know how a wedding planner worked, Marry Me, Charlotte B! is such a good follow-up book to read after the event. Written in an episodes-like way, you meet all kinds of different characters, from the Top Wedding Planner and Star Charlotte Bertram to everyone on her fabulous crew, and follow them as they work to plan a beautiful wedding for a Pop Princess.
Food and competition? Sign me up. I’m a huge fan of Masterchef, so it’s not a surprise I had to mention this hit TV show. Under the Knife is set inside a cooking competition where Nate is part of the group of 12 contestants. Also participating is Zachary: a cold, snotty competitor who can make Nate’s mind go blank and his heart go fast at the same time.
Bee Oder is on her way to working full time in libraries, after a while working full time in schools. She decided to change because there wasn’t enough time spent talking about books. She has degrees in Creative Writing and Teaching, and is on her way to securing a Masters in Information Management. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Bee has spent time living in the U.S. and the UK before settling back home—she finds that Melbourne has the best weather for reading and writing, as well as the best bookstores. You can find her taking photos of LGBT+ books on Instagram @lesbeebooks or else co-running the tumblr-based digital zine, The Butchery.
I have been spending a lot of time reading about graveyards of late. I could make some attempt to defend myself, or distance myself from any wannabe-teen-goth connotations, but the truth is that even though I claim to be researching for a novel I may never actually finish, I have always turned to quote-unquote “dark things” when my head isn’t in the right place. In my early primary years, it was witches; as a teen, it was the vampire romance; in university, it was Gothic literature—and it turned out the Gothic was the root of it all, really.
This is something that I am definitely not alone in. I had other geeky little “goth” friends in high school: we listened to The Cure and Siouxie Sioux; we had asymmetrical haircuts which we dyed black; we read a lot of Anne Rice. Also, we just all happened to turn out to identify somewhere under the wide LGBTQ+ umbrella.
The phenomenon of young LGBTQ+ people flocking together is a favourite topic on social media. People post about an innate recognition, a sense of feeling different and ‘other’ without knowing the reason. In her autobiographical tragicomic Fun Home, Alison Bechdel says, “Since earliest childhood, I knew I was different from other girls…for a long time, I thought it was just because I was smarter.” She is the outsider, for reasons she can’t even articulate at a young age.
Earlier in the same work, she writes about the feeling of elation at seeing a proud and confident butch woman out in public—someone who reflects her otherness. It is a moment in literature (albeit graphic literature) which has spawned the joyful lesbian catch-cry “ring of keys”, which itself rings with the exact “surge of joy” that Bechdel experienced in that moment as a child. The next panel in the comic, though, shows the disgust on her father’s face. The accusation. The interrogation: “Is that what you want to look like?”
Like that: different. Freakier. Monstrous.
Monstrosity and queer identity are long-time bedfellows. Susan Stryker wrote about becoming and being the monster in “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”—a seminal article which has gone on to influence queer art to this day. But even she certainly isn’t the first to have made this association.
A lot can maybe be said about how ill-treatment of LGBT+ people is referred to as phobia. We are objects of fear, pathologized. We are told we are monstrous by a homophobic, transphobic society: the way we have sex is unnatural and disgusting; our bodies are unattractive, dirty, useless, or false; we are in-between, not one or the other, ‘something else’. It. That.
I myself read Frankenstein for Literature class in Year 12, and I kept my thoughts about the monster to myself. The monster is rejected and maligned, mistreated to the point of violent anger. I was angry too, simmering with rage at myself for being so uncertain about my identity, and at everyone else for not giving me the support I craved. My peers pitied the monster, while I envied it. It was feared, definitely, but it was also powerful. It had the agency to take what it was entitled to. I was 17, and forcing myself to have a crush on a boy, despite my school folders being covered in (in another example of innate recognition) pictures of Ellen Page and Kristen Stewart. I couldn’t do heterosexuality properly. Imitation was getting me nowhere. I couldn’t play the role. My desires felt predatory and subversive, and I didn’t even know where to begin with them.
In traditional Gothic works, the supernatural acts as a stand-in for the real-world terrors of the time. It shows us that there is logic in being afraid of the world, because the world is a fearful place. In the words of Francisco Goya, “el sueño de la razón produce monstruos”—or, “the sleep of reason produces monsters.” The supernatural shows us the truth. In Frankenstein, we should fear the man who plays God; in Jane Eyre, we should fear the man who maligns women; in Dorian Gray, we should fear the baselessness of a hypocritical society. There is a prevalent reading of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which says that it is an allegory for the closet, and the danger that comes from living a double life—that hiding one’s true nature is untenable, and dangerous to ourselves and others. In The Yellow Wallpaper, the nameless wife is locked away and driven mad on account of her womanhood. There are real monsters in these stories, yes, but they aren’t the ones scuttling around in the dead of night.
The times, they have a-changed, though. More and more, supernatural literature tends towards fostering sympathy for the monster, not the ones who fear it.
In modern YA, the supernatural shows truth as well—but not about the darkness of the world; rather, as a reprieve from it. The supernatural is a salve for trauma, an escapist fantasy that protects those who have been cast aside by life, and gives them both purpose and a sense of secure identity: the eponymous Harry Potter finds home in the walls of a crumbling castle; in The Raven CycleAdam Parrish learns love and agency through connecting to the magic of a forest; even Twilight’s Bella Swan finds a sense of belonging and freedom from depression with a clan of vampires. It is also possibly why more and more fans are finding poignancy in reading Harry as a Man of Colour; why Adam’s bisexuality is so important to a vocal group; why people even choose to argue that Bella could be a lesbian. These characters are the Gothic outsiders, much like Frankenstein’s creature, but they are not ever cast as monsters. They are cast as heroes.
As my understanding of my own identity has developed with age, my understanding of my affinity for the Gothic has also mellowed—it provides solace for me as an adult that it didn’t when I was a teen. I still love the monsters. Now, though, I get to read them loving themselves as well.
Martin Cahill is a writer working in Manhattan and living in Astoria, Queens. He is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Writers’ Workshop and a member of the New York City based writing group, Altered Fluid. He has had fiction published in Fireside Fiction, Nightmare Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Shimmer Magazine. Martin also writes non-fiction reviews, articles, and essays for Tor.com, the Barnes & Noble Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog, and Strange Horizons.
Some books just take your breath away. Whether it’s a series that builds and builds over the course of books until the final volume leaves you gasping for air, a brilliant take on a tried and true genre or narrative, or a tiny slice of fiction that pierces your heart like a needle, leaving no mark on the skin but injecting you with emotion all the same, some books leave you panting, adrenaline pumping, and craving more. In the world of science fiction and fantasy, we’ve especially begun to see a revolution in the way these stories are told. Below, find some sci-fi/fantasy novels and series that have make me shake my head in admiration and pride.
Every book Jemisin has written strikes with a thunderous boom, a split of lightning through the sky, leaving the air itself feeling charged, electric. Her latest series, The Broken Earth, is no exception. A series that examines rage, social injustice, cultures of use and abuse, power dynamics, what an apocalypse would really look like, and a struggle for both freedom of self and freedom of identity, Jemisin’s three book epic delivers, as a mother from an oppressed community in society must find her daughter in a world that is ending faster than either of them anticipate. Jemisin succeeds in creating a narrative that is brutal, harrowing, and filled with moments large and small that made me gasp from page one.
The Craft Series by Max Gladstone
I always love when writers push fantasy out of their regular milieu. Much like the way Jemisin tinkers with convention—setting a fantasy novel in a precarious, apocalyptic world with a middle-aged mother protagonist—Gladstone is equally as happy to superimpose our 21st century ideas, cultures, and fears onto a world of monsters, myths, and magicians. Necromantic lawyers? Call us at your convenience! Got demons in the water supply? Hang on, we’ll send someone out there. Is your temple disintegrating because no one can agree upon its shared reality? Well, let’s get the board together and talk about it. Gladstone gleefully orchestrates the world of the Craft, picking and choosing where to interrogate finance as faith, investment as idolatry, or law as magic. Whether he’s discussing gentrification in Last First Snow, or space travel in Ruin of Angels, Gladstone backs down from nothing, and through his Craft Series, tells us a truth we can only see through a certain angle.
New York City is alive in a way only a certain handful of writers can capture, and Victor LaValle is absolutely one of them. Through his words, he brings to light the magic inherent in the streets of the city; the way that skyscrapers become icons of faith, the way Central Park can be just as haunted and ethereal and lovely as any faerie wood, how the subway thrums through the veins of the boroughs like blood vessels of grating sound and harsh light. In The Changeling, LaValle twines together myth and Manhattan, sacrifice and subways, as a man journeys into the world beneath this world to find out the truth of his wife and child, both of whom he believes he’s lost. LaValle captures these two worlds and braids them together effortlessly, and by the end of the novel, as he pulls away from the story to let you look at how he did it, even now, I can’t see; I only know it was magic, and this man is well-versed in the spells of narrative, mystery, horror, and myth.
Bolander is well known for her searing, lyrical, bittersweet short stories that are less a meander through a meadow and more a rocket burning fuel, desperate to escape orbit and bring you along for the ride. Her prose is gorgeous and hits with the kinetic power of a heavyweight champion, and there hasn’t been a story of hers that I’ve finished where I haven’t put a hand to my forehead, suddenly feeling as though I’ve come down with fever. The Only Great Harmless Thing, her new novella, is no different. Set up like mirrors through time, Bolander weaves together the story of an alternate world where Topsy, an abused and mistreated elephant, meets with Regan, one of the radium girls currently facing her own death by the glow of the element they were working with, which executives did not tell them was poison. And through it all, the haunting deep-myth history of Topsy and her ilk, told to us through the triumphant trumpeting of history, as well as a far future where the sins of the past are eager to be forgiven. Except elephants never forget. All of these tales come crashing together in a crescendo that is tragic and horrible and angry, so angry, and justifiable in that anger, as together, Topsy and Regan sing a song of rage that will shake the pillars of the world. Though this is a slim tale, its impact on me was enormous.
The Tensorate Series by JY Yang
THESE BOOKS Y’ALL. Ahem. My apologies. It’s just that these books by JY Yang are such a breath of fresh air, that it’s tough for me to talk about them without getting a little…energetic. But that energy is earned, as Yang does everything in their power to make these stories sing. Beginning with the duology The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, and continuing with this summer’s The Descent of Monsters, we follow the twins of the Protector: brash, stubborn, and sensitive Akeha, and his sister, Mokoya, whose powers of prophecy made her distant, cautious, and strong. Their stories braid throughout the first two novellas, and continue on into the third story; no matter what the plot may be, Yang manages to keep things fresh and exciting; they’re equally as gifted at interrogating aspects of gender, sexuality, power, imperialism, hierarchy, family, and love, as they are at crafting a fully lived in world full of intricate magic and massive monsters and deep history. The Tensorate is full of mystery but none of it would be half as interesting without Yang’s deft prose and their rich, complicated characters giving this world life.
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