Summer’s almost over for me, so I figured it would be good to review some of my reading escapades before I get slammed with grad school and copyedits and have no time for any books except those that I am directly involved in producing. So! Here’s a look back on my summer reads this year.
Last year, in my lumbering effort to catch up on Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings universe, I read through the Liveship Trader trilogy, which was a worthwhile effort but, damn, those books are heavy. In all senses of the term. This year, I wanted to focus on books that are a little more light-hearted or at least was more “creepy because zombies” and less “creepy because prevalent systematic sexual violence”. I also wanted to expand my reading to incorporate more men of color, since up until this point, the number of fantasy books written by MOC that I’ve read has been tragically tiny. Here are the books I’ve read this summer:
Half-Resurrection Blues and Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel José Older. The first two books in Older’s Bone Street Rumba series, a creepy urban fantasy series set in New York about an undead man named Carlos Delacruz who works as a sort of freelance MIB agent but, like, for ghosts instead of aliens. Both books focus on Carlos becoming entangled in the mechanisms of sinister supernatural groups who endanger both the humans and the ghosts of New York. These books were great fun, and Carlos is an incredible jackass of a main character who’s just sensitive enough to be sympathetic. The various types of ghosts and zombies and cultists made Oogey Boogey-style out of bugs bring a great fantasy element to the authenticity of the bustling New York setting (I assume, I’ve never been to New York, but Older sure makes it feel realistic). Midnight Taxi Tango was especially stand-out to me as Older expands the point of view characters to include Kia, Carlos’ teen friend who gains the ability to see ghosts after she gets caught in the crossfires of supernatural conspiracies, and Reza, a butch lesbian gangster who likewise becomes entangled. Older’s talent for character voice, which was already apparent in the first book with just Carlos’ PoV, is really showcased once he expands the main cast of the series. The third book, Battle Hill Bolero, is on my to-read list, so here’s hoping I can make some time for it before next summer rolls around.
Kojiki by Keith Yatsuhashi. This book has been on my to-read list since I first got in talks with Angry Robot about Moonshine. While I was researching them, the cover of Kojiki’s sequel, Kokoro, really caught my eye. I haven’t yet read Kokoro, but Kojiki was definitely worth the ride. I will admit: I learned in the course of reading this book that my stamina for long battle sequences is not what it used to be, and that slowed me down quite a bit. But if epic, landscape-destroying clashes between gods and their minions is your speed, this book should be very enjoyable. It follow Keiko Yamada as she travels to Japan to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance and encounters an old ally of his, a kami named Yui. Yui introduces Keiko to a conflict among the kami surrounding the kami of fire threatening to destroy the world in pursuit of his obsession over the kami of water. The story does end up focusing quite a bit more heavily on the kami than I was expecting, and I would have liked to have seen more of Keiko herself, but the conflict between the embodiments of the elements does make for some very vivid scenes and sort of cinematic battle sequences.
Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart. This was an exception to my search for MOC authors, and I picked it up more because after reading through the above books, despite my immense enjoyment of them, I was really just feeling some high fantasy, and this was another book whose cover caught my attention as I was signing on with Angry Robot. Silent Hall follows five teens who are the sole survivors of an island cursed by a god, who then fall in with a mysterious wizard as they attempt to rebuild their lives on the mainland among the warring followers of various gods. The book follows them through a series of sometimes loosely-connected adventures which gave the story a very Earthsea-esque flow that I was really feeling. The five main characters were all excellent–realistically flawed but very easy to root for, which is exactly what one would hope for with a cast of frightened, desperate teens. It was only Hunter who came off a little weaker than the others in the first half of the book, but this was largely the result of his general stoicism and he grew into himself as the story went on. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Narky as the traditional roguish scoundrel who shined a little brighter to me than the others (plus, greatest naming of a fantasy character ever?), but they all had strong personalities that harkened to but didn’t rely too heavily standard fantasy archetypes. (Although, again, Narky’s adherence to archetypes really only bolstered my opinion of him, since he is very much My Type in terms of fantasy characters.) It’s a great, mythological sort of story that brings all of high fantasy’s good stuff to the table without having all that Good Ol’ Boy fantasy nonsense of its genre predecessors from the 90s and early 2000s.
As for what I’m reading now, I’m working on one print book and one ebook: Among the Fallen by N.S. Dolkart, the sequel to Silent Hall, and Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus, a steampunk novella about a Jamaican ex-spy on the run with a young boy wanted by multiple political factions (this is yet another book that has wooed me largely by the sheer beauty of its cover, but while the premise is pretty straightforward, the execution has been lovely.) I’m loving both so far, and while I might be able to finish up Buffalo Soldier in my last week of summer, I don’t know if I’ll get far enough into Among the Fallen before school starts to really count it as a “summer read.”
Overall, while I couldn’t get through as much recreational reading as I wanted, I made some solid choices with what I was able to get into. For those of you with more spare time to read than I have, I highly recommend any of these titles. In the meantime, despite my soon-to-be-limited free time, I’m hoping to carve out enough reading time this fall to finish Among the Fallen and get into Jeannette Ng’s upcoming Under the Pendulum Sun and Linsey Miller’s recently released Mask of Shadows.