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I don't think I'm going too far when I say that Diane Duane's Young Wizards series has captivated her readers, who have become attached, not only to the central characters Nita, Kit, Dairine and their immediate families, but also to the wizards - and other beings - from planets far and wide who have become a part of their extended family, as well as colleagues they can rely on.

This is why I was so excited to learn that Duane is writing a trio of novellas about some of the secondary characters - if any of them can actually be called secondary - as they deal with the defining moments of their future lives as wizards, their Ordeals. In fact, I immediately bought the two novellas currently available from Duane's website.

The first novella I read was On Ordeal: Roshaun ke Nelaid, which, in addition to showing us that an Ordeal need not be full of physical threat and heroic deeds in order to be a profound test of courage and will to do what is best for all, provided much welcome background information into Roshaun's life, his family and his world.

The second novella of the planned trio, On Ordeal: Mamvish fsh Wimsih, tells of the Doom of the Wimseh at the hands of the Lone One, and the events leading up to Mamvish's rather unorthodoxly concluded Ordeal. The history of Mamvish's people, and Mamvish herself, is a difficult one, but Duane handles it with skill and sensitivity. A beautifully told story.

The third novella, not yet released, features another of the fascinating young wizards who have worked with and become companions to Nita and Kit - Ronan Nolan. I am keeping an eye on Duane's website so I can read it as soon as it's available.

The idea of seeing these familiar characters before their wizardry comes to them, and as they negotiate the trial that confirms them as wizards and agents of the Powers, appeals greatly to me. I rather hope that Duane will continue with these novellas, giving us the Ordeal stories of more of the wizards who are a part of Nita and Kit's lives.

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Diane Duane's tenth young wizards novel, Games Wizards Play, is just as wonderful as the earlier books (and shorter pieces) in the series. Yes, I am a huge fan.

On the surface, it's a step back from the high-stakes save the universe stories in many of the earlier books. This time around, the mission for Nita, Kit, Dairine and her wizard-computer Spot is hardly the stuff of life or death: they are mentoring young wizards competing in the Invitational - a "science fair" held every 11 years where wizards with a flair for creating new spells present their work for judging, with the prize being a year's apprenticeship with Earth's Planetary wizard.

But of course it's more than that. The novel is full of encounters, coincidences, and prophetic dreams that warn us to read carefully, because what is happening around this seemingly low-risk assignment will have an affect on whatever is coming. Some plot-threads from earlier books are happily furthered, or resolved, as well.

And it's also a treat for fans, because we get to see wizards - lots of wizards - interacting, and we learn a lot about how wizardly society works around the world.

Lots of fun for long-time fans, probably not a book for a new reader to start with.

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Warrior, the second volume in Ellen Oh's young adult fantasy trilogy, continues to entertain. The warrior in question, protagonist Kang Kira, shows every sign of being the prophesied Dragon Musado, a warrior of great power, and her cousin, Prince Taejo, the foretold king who will unite the seven kingdoms. However, at the moment, they are orphans, their parents dead at the hands of invaders allied with demons, and as this novel opens, the king who offered to give them shelter and protection is killed by a demon curse forcing them to flee once more.

To before she can wield her power fully, Kira must complete a hero's quest by finding three magical objects of power. She has already located one of these object, but two more remain. So Kira and Taejo set out with a small band of companions to complete her quest - but Kira's other task is to keep the prince and herself alive.

Fun, and all the more interesting because it is grounded in Korean history, folklore and culture.

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I was very much impressed by Ellen Klages' Green Glass Sea, and therefore had to immediately acquire and read the sequel, White Sands, Red Menace.

As the title suggests, the novel is set just after WWII, and places protagonists Dewey and Suze, now young teens, in the midst of the space race and the growth of the Communist scare in the US. Dewey, now part of the Gordon family, has moved with them to Alamagordo, where Suze's father is part of the rocket development program, working with American and German scientists who bring with them the tainted research gained from slave labour at facilities like Peenemunde.

There is no work at White Sands for Suze's mother, however, and she is devoting much of her time to the nascent anti-war, anti-bomb movement that arose following the horrors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The girls have embarked on a joint project in the attic that they call the Wall - a combination of engineering and art that brings them both together. At the same time, exploring their skills individually brings them both new friends and experiences.

The novel bristles with tensions - within the Gordon family, in their day to day relationships, and in the world at large - but at the same time, the narrative focuses on making bonds and working through difficulties.

Again, Klages places the personal stories of two teens in the process of self-discovery and identity formation in a complex web of social issues. The difference is that the girls are now older - no longer just observers, they must make their own decisions on how they will respond to perceived injustices.

The book captures the feel of the times - from the excitement of progress and the allure of the 'amazing atomic age' to craving for a kind of stability where 'everyone knows their place' in response to the turmoil of war, to the growth of the subtle paranoia that would characterise the Cold War era of the 50s.

A most enjoyable book, with two very engaging characters. I wish Klages had written more books showing Dewey and Suze growing into young women - I find myself wondering what they would have become.

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Ellen Klages' YA historical novel Green Glass Sea is a wonderful read. Set during World War II, it is the story of ten-year-old Dewey Kerrigan, whose mathematician father has been recruited to work on the top-secret program to develop a nuclear bomb.

Dewey's mother left the family when Dewy was a baby, and she has grown up being shuffled between her father and her maternal grandmother - but now that her father is settled for the time bring in Los Alamos and her grandmother has been incapacitated with a stroke, Dewey rejoins her father and tries to make a life with him in the closed community of scientists, engineers, technicians, military personnel and their families that make up the core of the Manhattan Project.

It's not easy for Dewey to fit in. She's short, needs glasses, and wears a shoe with a lift because one leg is shorter than the other due to a childhood injury. And she isn't all that interested in typical "girl" things - she's a born scientist and engineer, and spends her free time tinkering with gears, radio parts, and other useful things she finds at the Los Alamos dump.

Still, Dewey is happy to be with her father - until he's called away on business and she has to stay with the Gordons and their daughter Suze. Suze - tall and solidly built, with a creative mind and an artist's independent spirit - doesn't fit in either, but she wants to. She misses her home in Berkeley, and she resents the time her parents spend working on the project, something that affects her more than most other kids because both her parents are scientists. And she resents having to live with "screwy Dewey."

In Green Glass Sea, Klages portrays the reality of life at the heart of the war effort, where secrecy is paramount and building "the gadget" that it is hoped will win the war is on everyone's mind.

By telling the story through the uncritical eyes of a child, Klages is also able to explore issues of class, gender and race in the late 1940s, amidst the fervour of war. From the social distinctions on base reflected in who is housed where, to war propaganda that is focused on Hitler when referring to the European theatre, but on "Japs" as a group when dealing with the Asian theatre, to the peer pressure on Suze and Dewey to be "normal girls," Green Glass Sea is an unflinching look at wartime society in the U.S.

But it is in the characters Dewey and Suze that the book gives the young audience it is intended for its greatest gift. As they come to know and feel comfortable in the things that distinguish them from the other girls, and develop a friendship that empowers them both, they become role models for every girl who is drawn to a different set of interests and goals from those society sets out for her.

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When I was young, I read all of the books written by Rosemary Sutcliff that I could find, but that was a very long time ago, and I do not remember if this novel, Dawn Wind, was among them.

It is one of her young adult novels, and thus not a particularly challenging read, but it is still a solid historical novel, with a personable young hero and an interesting time to tell a story in.

Roman Britain is almost gone, yielding to the incursions of Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Owain, a young British boy orphaned in battle, finds a young British girl, Regina, the survivor of a sacked Romano-British city. Together they try to escape to Gaul, but the girl falls ill, and to buy her a place in a household where she will be cared for, sells the only thing he has (other than his father's ring, which he buries rather than give it into Saxon hands) - his freedom.

Sutcliff's account of Owain's life as a thrall among the Saxons gives light to the events and customs of the period, as he witnesses the rise to power of Aethelbert of Kent and the arrival of Augustine of Hippo in Britain. And there's a happy ending, too.

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Diane Duane's Young Wizards novella Lifeboats is a look at a somewhat different side of errantry - the kind that may still be high-stakes, but isn't full of adventure and derring-do.

A planet is about to die. Tevaral's massive moon Thesba is breaking apart and when it does, the planet will at best become uninhabitable, and at worst will slowly break up itself. Hundreds of thousands of wizards from species all over the universe - including Kit and Nita and most of thrir wizardly friends - are called to aid in a massive refugee action: to hold open worldgates to new planets where as much of the biosphere, the cultural artefacts and the beings that inhabit Tevaral can be relocated before the end comes. It's a hard job - worldgates are difficult to manage at the best of times, but when you have so many thousands of them operating non-stop in one place, and so many different stresses on them, the gates need constant support and surveillance. It's work that's tedious and nerve-wracking by turns.

And there's another problem. Not all of the Tevaralti are willing to be rescued, and they have not been able to explain why. The wizards responsible for the relocation efforts know they must respect this decision - but still hope that if they can discover why some of the Tevaralti feel this way, they can find a way to change their minds.

What makes the story really work is that, given the nature of shift work, the wizards involved in the rescue effort have time to visit and socialise, to keep their spirits up in the midst of such a vast dislocation. With Kit as the focal point, the reader meets his new wizardly colleagues Djam and Cheleb, follows his developing relationship with Nita, and enjoys getting to know the rest of the gang a little better - including some insight into how one species might make use of low-carb ketchup.

But ultimately, like all of Duane's Young Wizard works, there is a deep and deeply satisfying philosophical message, and one that spoke very strongly to me: "life is better."

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Sherman Alexie's young adult novel, The Absolutely True Adventures of a Part-time Indian is by turns hilarious and heart-breaking. And while it may be fiction (though based at least in part on Alexie's own early life), it rings absolutely true.

The narrator is Arnold Spirit Jr., a young boy growing up on a Spokane reserve. He is charmingly geekish, isolated by his intelligence, his fondness for drawing cartoons, and the physical consequences of being hydrocephalic - seizures, an ungainly appearance with an overly large head. As narrator, Arnold speaks directly to the reader, sharing his sometimes funny, sometimes angry, often poignant observations about his life and the lives of his relatives and neighbours on the reserve. There is no sugar coating here; Arnold sees the ways in which his people are trapped in destructive patterns and second-class lives:
It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it.
Early in the book, Arnold thinks about what his parents might have been like under different circumstances:
Seriously, I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams. Given the chance, my mother would have gone to college. She still reads books like crazy. She buys them by the pound. And she remembers everything she reads. ... Given the chance, my father would have been a musician. When he gets drunk, he sings old country songs. And blues, too. And he sounds good. ... But we reservation Indians don't get to realize our dreams. We don't get those chances. Or choices. We're just poor. That's all we are.
But Arnold does get a chance, and a choice, when he is suspended from the reserve school for throwing a book at his (white) teacher. (He has reason for his anger - he has just realised that he is studying from the same textbook his mother used in school, that no attempt has been made to give the Indian students an up-to-date education.) His teacher, despite his own anger at having his nose broken, sees in Arnold's anger a deeper emotion - hope. And the urges Arnold to "take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope." For Arnold, that means the white school, 20 miles away, and there he determines to go, even though he must walk to school and back each day because his parents cannot afford the gas to drive him there.

Attending an off-reserve school brings with it many additional problems; to the white kids at school, he is an outsider - at least, until he displays an unexpected talent for basketball - while to his former friends on the reserve, he is a traitor - especially when he plays basketball against them. But he perseveres, takes this rare gift of a chance that has been denied to so many others, and makes his choice.
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The Summer Prince is a complex and thoughtful YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic future (references are made to bombing, extreme climate change and plagues) in which some parts of the world have recovered, advanced and prospered while others remain damaged, unstable and unsafe. One bubble of prosperity (at least for most of its citizens) is the city of Palmeres Tres (the historical Palmeres was a fugitive community of escaped African slaves, people of mixed race, Indians and poor whites, mostly Portuguese, established in colonial Brazil in 1605). Palmeres Tres is a city built in the shape of a pyramid, with the wealthy and political elites living on the upper tiers, and the lowest class, those who work and live amidst the stench of the algae tanks that feed the city on the bottom.

Founded after the Y Plague which killed 70 percent of the male population around the world, Palmeres was and is a matriarchy, ruled by a Queen and her congress of advisors, mostly Aunties with a sprinkling of Uncles. The legitimacy of the Queen, however, comes from the dying choice of the Summer Kings, who are sacrificed yearly (in a cycle of four moon years followed by one sun year - the moon year Kings traditionally only confirm the current Queen, the sun year Kings have the option to choose a new Queen as they are ritually killed.

Palmeres Tres has evolved a society that is essentially conservative and rigidly stratified on class, age and gender, but sexually permissive. Same-sex marriages, bisexuality and multiple partnering are commonplace, but the classes rarely interact, society is divided into grandes (those over 30) and the younger wakas (seen as children and lacking power), and men are rarely seen in positions of power and authority. Furthermore, there is a divide between the grandes, particularly of the upper classes who are resistant to new technologies, and wakas, particularly those of the the lower classes, who are eager to access and use these technologies.

The novel starts in the spring of a moon year. All of Palmeres Tres is eagerly following the public appearances of the three final candidates for Summer King, including two young friends - June, an aspiring artist from a high-ranking and politically connected family, and Gil, a dancer whose mother is a sought-after clothing designer. Their choice for Summer King is Enki, dark-skinned and the child of a refugee from outside, who grew up among the algae vat workers. (Don't read too much into the similarity of the names Enki and Enkidu, Gil and Gilgamesh - I did, and was a little disappointed to find that all that was being referenced was "wild man" element of Enki's character, the gap in social status between the two young men, and the intensity of the relationship that eventually develops between them.)

Enki, of course, becomes the Summer King, and rather than play the game of figurehead, he sets out to use his ceremonial powers to effect real positive gains for the people of the underclass. Gil becomes his lover, and Juno his secret collaborator in performance/spectacle art intended to spark social change.

As the narrative unfolds, this complex coming-of-age story addresses issues as diverse as the role of art and spectacle in shaping revolution and social change, the responsible use of new technologies, the ethics of privilege and power, the meaning of sacrifice, the importance of integrity and the need to consider consequences. All this on top of the more commonly highlighted YA themes of exploring love, sexuality, and friendship and negotiating the path from teenager striving to break with one's family to adult who accepts and understands one's family.

I enjoyed the book, but I feel it is important to comment on the issue of cultural appropriation raised by one reviewer:
Unfortunately, the book is set in Brazil and so obviously written by someone who is not Brazilian. And before anyone can say but “it is not really Brazil, because it’s in the future” or something equally disingenuous like that: the language used in the book is Portuguese; the location of Palmares Tres is still in Bahia; the book references Brazilian history and background. So yes: it is Brazil.

But a Brazil that only an outsider could write. Because the story focuses on the parts of history and culture that an outsider would highlight, and none of the insider knowledge that goes much beyond the surface. And I want to be careful here because it’s not like I don’t appreciate and admire authors who want to move the focus from Europe/US to elsewhere in the world. I also have read interviews with the author (and even briefly met her at BEA a couple of years ago) and I believe in her good intentions and that she tried to be as respectful as possible, which just goes to show that even the best intentions can go awry. (http://thebooksmugglers.com/2013/10/smugglers-ponderings-thoughts-on-the-summer-prince-by-alaya-dawn-johnson.html)
I did notice that many readers/reviewers seemed to be veering toward exoticising the setting, as in this comment: "Alaya evokes the feeling of this place so well that I don't just want to visit Brazil, I want to learn capoeira, and samba."

Johnson has spoken about having done research and reached out to people with more knowledge and experience of Brazil, so it's clear that she acknowledged the issues of writing about another culture. And it's important for writers to push boundaries. It's hard to write authentically about a culture you have not lived in, but it is every author's right to try it, and Johnson clearly tried to do it with sensitivity and respect.

Personally, I feel that a book that succeeds in many areas while being flawed in some others is still a good book. I've read some great books set partially or wholly in Canada but written by people not steeped in Canadian culture that were "off" from a cultural perspective but still good because of what they accomplished in other areas. Is it always cultural appropriation to write about a culture not one's own? Does the intent and effort to deal with the culture respectfully make up for any lapses or inauthenticities perceived by the reader who is familiar with the culture? These are questions I don't have answers to. Which is, I suppose, why I've written at length about all the interesting aspects of the novel, but also added this lengthy discussion of culture appropriation.

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the story that unfolds in Drew Hayden Taylor's The Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel, is on the surface quite simple. Once, long ago, an adventurous young Anishnabe boy ran away from his home and persuded fur traders to take him to Montreal; from there he was taien to France as an amusement for the court of the King. Soon enough he discovered that he longed to be home again, but instead he fell sick with a disease his people had never been exposed to - measles - and as he lay dying, something else his people had never known came to him and gave him a second life as a vampire. Now, some 350 years later, Pierre L'Errant has finally come home to the modern-day reserve of Otter Lake, where his village once stood. And here he changes the future of an unhappy young Anishnabe girl who sees nothing in her life worth living for.

A fascinating blending of an ancient European myth-figure and a contemporary coming-of-age and dealing with trauma YA story, the overriding theme that brings both vampire and human teen together is the need to reconnect to one's roots, one's culture, one's history. For the vampire, the connection is what allows him, at last, to die. For the teenager, a vision of the history and place she shares with her ancestors gives her the desire to live.

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Deep under the city, there's a place called Safe. A place for Freaks, Sicks. Beasts. But it's built on a lie, and it will be torn down by the lie and the person the lie was told about. And eventually it will be rebuilt by the truth, and the one who learns that you can't save everyone, sometimes not even yourself - but you can tell your own truths, and listen to the truths of others.

Matthew was born in Safe. His parents are dead, and he is being raised by Atticus, one of the founders of Safe, to be the community's new Teller - the communal memory, the person who learns and remembers and recites the tales of all the other members. The only tale he does not know is the tale of Corner, the other founder, who was exiled from the community and is now feared as an enemy who may return. Oh, he knows what Atticus has said about Corner, but he does not ubderstand intil the end that what he has been told is a lie. When Corner's Shadows invade and destroy Safe, Matthew and other survivors flee to seek refuge with helpers - so-called normal people who know about Safe but who live Above. Matthew, as Teller and as the apparent heir to Atticus, feels it is his responsibility to find and protect the other survivors, especially a very damaged young woman named Ariel, and to rebuild Safe.

It might be a coming of age YA novel, but then again, it might be a lot more than that

This might be a parable, about what happens to The Other - the one who isn't normal enough to be part of the world Above, who is pushed into the darkness because of issues of colour, or gender, or disability, or mental illness, or - because this is science fiction - mutancy. And about how the Other comes to see and interact with the world that casts them into darkness. And how the cycles of causing pain, and learning fear and hate, that bind both the Other and the ones who cast the Other out can be - no, not broken, it's never that easy - cracked a little by finding and telling and sharing truths about each other.

It's certainly a very complex book that looks at many difficult issues. As Brit Mandelo says in her review of the novel for tor.com:
Above is a book with sharp edges. Bobet casts a critical and incisive eye on her characters’ fears, failings, wants, needs—and what they are capable of, for better or worse. Above also deals intimately and wrenchingly with mental illness, the ways that we treat people who we deem Other in our society, the complexities of truth-telling, and what makes right or wrong. Issues of gender, race, abuse, and sexuality are also prevalent in this world of outcasts, both literally and metaphorically. (http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/04/telling-tales-above-by-leah-bobet)
I enjoyed this book very much, and am looking forward to more from Bobet.



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The Chaos, Nalo Hopkinson's first YA novel, is at its heart a book about identity and self-discovery - but it is also a full-tilt boogie through chaotic transformations worthy of a serious dose of magic mushrooms, and the myths and folklore of more places and peoples than I could count, with special attention given to classic tricksters and ambiguous entities from Anansi to Br'er Rabbit to Baba Yaga.

Scotch, the protagonist, is 16 and feels she doesn't really fit in anywhere. Her father is a white Jamaican, her mother a black American; Scotch is light-skinned enough to pass but refuses to, while her brother, much darker in skin tone, faces all the racial pre-conceptions assigned to young black men in North America. Scotch's middleclass parents are strict; her father in particular has very clear ideas about what it means to be a good girl. So far, this could be any YA novel about learning to balance expectations while finding and expressing yourself. But Scotch has been seeing things lately, things that no one else can see, and she's developed a mysterious skin condition that is slowly covering her with sticky black spots.

And then one night, the world goes mad. A volcano erupts in Lake Ontario; her brother is sucked inside a strange shiny bubble; people, animals, plants and inanimate objects are transformed into surreal creatures; dinosaurs and sasquatches and creatures out of folklore and legend roam the streets of Toronto (a few brief references to places as disparate as London and Karachi indicate that the chaos is happening on a world-wide scale). Scotch sets out into this nightmarish world to find and save her brother.

Along the way, she encounters and survives a number of chaos-born dangers; she also makes some crucial discoveries about who she is, and can become - as a person, a young woman on the edge of adulthood, a sister, a daughter, a lover, a friend.

In a book that draws so much on myth and folklore, it's not surprising that I kept thinking about all the folktales about the sister searching for her brothers who have been taken from home, usually by some magic that they have ignored, or misinterpreted. In all these tales, the sister is tested in numerous ways, finds help in unexpected places, and grows throughout the search. I can't help but see some common thread between these tales and this book.

One thing that delighted me about this book was the marvellous multiculturalism of it - from the characters to the mythologies. I also appreciated that Hopkinson dealt head-on with the sometimes uncomfortable truth that people who are on the receiving end of one kind of prejudice, such as racism, and who can see it clearly and call other out on it, may be blind to their own prejudices in other areas, such as homophobia or ablism.

We never learn what caused the Chaos - though various people in the book speculate that something happened to literalise the fears, anxieties, and inner lives of people around the world, to make the symbols of their unconscious worlds real. And that's something else I like about the book. There are no neat endings in real life, either.

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The Starry Rift, Jonathan Strachan (ed.)

In this anthology, Strachan has assembled a roster of fine SF stories from established authors, all of the sort that older readers like myself read with wide-eyed excitement and wonder in the pulp magazines of our youth.

Strachan says of his intent in editing this anthology: "I turned to a handful of the best writers in the field, asking them to write stories that would offer today’s readers the same kind of thrill enjoyed by the pulp readers of over fifty years ago. The futures we imagine today are not the same futures that your grandfather’s generation imagined or could have imagined. But some things in science fiction remain the same: the sense of wonder, of adventure, and of fearlessly coming to grips with whatever tomorrow may bring. Some of the stories here are clearly the offspring of those grand old space adventure tales, but others imagine entirely new and unexpected ways of living in the future. The Starry Rift is not a collection of manifestos—but it is both entertainment and the sound of us talking to tomorrow."

These are stories with younger protagonists and presumably intended for a YA audience; however, it should be noted that the quality of the work herein is such that most adult readers should enjoy the anthology as well; I certainly did.



Wings of Fire, Jonathan Strachan and Marianne S. Jablon (eds.)

I am fascinated by dragons, and have ben for as long as I can remember. So how could I resist an anthology of dragon stories? And such wonderful stories, too, including some of the finest of t)the classic dragon tales, from Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea-based The Rule of Names, to Elizabeth Bear's Orm the Beautiful, to Anne McCaffrey's first tale of Pern, Weyr Search, to Lucius Shepard's haunting The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule.

Other, perhaps lesser-known, but compelling visions of dragonkind include Michael Swanwick's King Dragon (an excerpt from his novel The Dragons of Babel); Naomi Novik's In Autumn, A White Dragon Looks Over the Wide River, set in her Temeraire alternate history universe and featuring the Imperial dragon Lien; and Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg's heart-rending The Dragon on the Bookshelf. And more. A delicious diversity of dragons.



Shattered Shields, Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt (eds.)

Enjoyable anthology of fantasy stories focusing on warriors, some set in established fantasy worlds developed by writers such as Glen Cook (The Black Company novels) and Elizabeth Moon (the Paksennarion novels), others stand-alones, and all quite readable. Standouts for me were: Bonded Men by James L. Sutter, a story based on the legends of the Theban Band of warriors who were also lovers; Hoofsore and Weary by Cat Rambo, about a small group of warriors - all but one of them female centaurs - cut off from their main force and making a desperate retreat through dangerous territory; and The Fixed Stars, by Seanan McGuire, about a fateful battle between the children of the great lords of Fae, Oberon and Titania, and their own mixed blood descendants.

Fans of milsff of the fantasy variety should find something here to suit their fancies.


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Nomansland is inspired by a casual reference to a female-only society in the classic post-apocalypse novel The Chrysalids by John Wyndham: "To the north-east they say there is a great land where the plants aren’t very deviational, and the animals and people don’t look deviational, but the women are very tall and strong. They rule the country entirely, and do all the work. They keep their men in cages until they are about twenty-four years old, and then eat them. They also eat shipwrecked sailors. But as no one ever seems to have met anyone who has actually been there and escaped, it’s difficult to see how that can be known. Still, there it is—no one has ever come back denying it either." Hauge has taken this reference as the basis for the community of Foundland.

In talking about Nomansland, I think it is important to keep its beginnings in mind because both novels feature extreme examples of societies obsessed with conformity to a rule of behaviour and indeed of ways of being, and young people who secretly challenge the strictly enforced norms and ultimately elect to leave these societies. It's also important to keep in mind that in both societies, memory of what life was really like before the apocalypse has been lost in part, supressed in part, and heavily coloured by the choices made by the founders of these post-Tribulation societies. As well, knowledge about other existing communities of survivors is repressed and mythologised - the women of Foundland are not cannibals, and as the young protagonist of Hauge's novel learns, men as not exactly as she has been told either.

Nomansland presents a society that shares some elements with other women-only dystopias, including Wyndham's Consider Her Ways, and also some elements with the medieval Christian monastic orders, both for men and for women. The women of Foundland live under a rigid caste structure, live highly regimented communal lives, obey rules of conduct that focus on a denial of individuality, sensuality, "vanity" - which includes everything from personal decoration to looking in a mirror, are enjoined to avoid "special friendships" and receive severe punishments including whippings, shunnings, solitary confinement and banishment for breaking the Rule.

However, as the teen-aged protagonist Keller learns, these rules are indeed broken at every level of Foundland's society. Its rulers dress up in fancy clothing and indulge in sensual repasts. Some adults maintain extended "special friendships" and a few maintain clandestine connections with men who visit the island from time to time, trading in tobacco and other luxuries. And some of Keller's peers have stumbled upon a cache of artifacts from the past, including clothing, jewely, cosmetics and fashion magazines. Some reviewers of the novel have fastened on the way in which Keller and her companions throw themselves into frenzies of secret beauty pageants and make-over parties as a rebuke of feminist criticism of "the beauty trap," and even a statement about the "essential" quality of decoration as part of the female psyche, but it serms to me more that these are adolescents embracing new (to them) behaviours and rejecting the severe codes of behaviour they grew up with, and human beings seeking to explore their individuality and sensuality. In any case, the novel provides much food for thought on issues of gender and individual identity.

It's also a good read.

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Malinda Lo's novella Natural Selection, set in the same fictional universe as her novels Adaptation and Inheritance, focuses on Amber Gray, the Earthborn alien who is a key character and love interest for the protagonist of the novels.

This is a prequel of sorts, giving us a glimpse into Amber's early life as a child of two cultures and her struggle to develop a sense of self that includes both her heritage and her adopted culture. As Amber and her polyamorous. family (one mother, two fathers) move back and forth between the two planets, her experiences and relationships give her the chance to explore her identity in both worlds.

Lo's work is notably GLBT-friendly - something I am very happy to see - and Amber's preference for relationships with other girls plays a large part in her coming to see who she is. On Earth, she is attracted to her best friend, who rejects Amber when she is outed by the boy her friend has been pursuing; on her own world, same-sex relationships are seen as perfectly natural, and it is in part through a shared rite of passage with a girl who sees her as a prospective lover that she comes to terms with the differences between her two worlds and finds a way to be herself in both.

I find myself hoping that Lo will write more about Amber, and the protagonists from the two novels.

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First in a trilogy, Prophecy by Ellen Oh is a solid if at times predictable YA fantasy. What sets it apart is Oh's choice to use Korean folklore and history to create her fantasy world.

Kang Kira, niece of the king, can sense demons. Because of a dream her mother had during her pregnancy about her unborn child being a great warrior, Kira has been trained in martial skills - and she uses these skills both to kill demons and to serve as bodyguard to her cousin, the young prince. When the king is betrayed to his death and the kingdom captured by the Yamato (historically, Japan invaded Korea on many occasions), Kira must save the prince, and help him fulfill an ancient prophecy - one in which she herself will play a greater role than anyone suspected.

There are many standard elements to the story - the prophecy, the protagonist who begins as misunderstood and discovers a great destiny, and a somewhat sketchy love triangle between the protagonist, the bad boy son of the traitor, and the good friend with a tortured past among them - but the use of a Korean-inspired setting and culture gives these elements a fresh feel. I quite enjoyed it and look forward to the next volume in the series.

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As any good sequel should, Inheritance resolves the threads left hanging at the end of Lo's previous novel, Adaptation.

Now that the presence of aliens on Earth has been revealed, the Imrians come forward and we learn why they are on Earth, and what they have been doing. Reese and David face massive media attention and government scrutiny over their experience with both secretive government organisations and the mysterious aliens. And they must come to terms with the changes in their personal lives and relationships brought about by Reese's attraction to the alien Amber.

Satisfying at many levels, not the least being the willingness of both Reese and David to explore more fluid understandings of sexuality and relationship.

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I loved Lo's two earlier YA fantasy novels, Huntress and Ash, so I was quite naturally eager to read Adaptation, her foray into YA science fiction. Perhaps because of the "real world" setting - the US, only a little into our own future - the book was more obviously YA, and very much a coming of age story for the main character, Reese. It's also a story about finding your own identity, coming to terms with your own sexuality, and learning to question the authorities who try to define and confine your reality.

There's a grand government conspiracy involving aliens and biotechnology that Reese and her friend (and future love interest) David literally stumble into. There's also the beautiful stranger (also a future love interest) who turns out to be at the heart of the secret alien conspiracy. And there's a refreshing suggestion that there are more ways than one to resolve a love triangle. At the end, I found myself quite eager to read the second volume of the duology. I must add, however, that while I enjoyed it, I found that Lo's writing style is somewhat more suited to fantasy than to SF.
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In 2013, Some of the historical novels I read were actually re-reads of books I had first read a rather long time ago. First among these were the Brothers of Gwynedd series by Edith Pargeter. I've long been entranced by the history (and mythology) of Wales, an interest that probably goes back to my first explorations of the King Arthur myths, or perhaps to the publication of Evangeline Walton's four-part adaptation of The Mabinogion published in the early 1970s.

In any event, the bloody and tragic story of the last Prince of an independent Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd has long been a favourite subject of mine, one I first read about in Pargeter's quartet. Sharon Kaye Penman has also written an excellent series of books about the disastrous wars with England and the final conquest of Wales, but there's nothing wrong with having several versions of the same story. 

Edith Pargeter, The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet
Sunrise in the West
Dragon at Noonday
The Hounds of Sunset
Afterglow and Nightfall


When I was young, Rosemary Sutcliff was one of my favourite authors, and with the recent film based on the book, The Eagle of the Ninth, many of her books are becoming more available again, which means that this is the perfect time to re-read some of the books I loved. And even though these two series, set in a more historic Roman Britain and a far less historic court of King Arthur, were originally ibtended as yiung adult books, Ifound that despite the years, I enjoy them still.

Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles
The Eagle of the Ninth
The Silver Branch
The Lantern Bearers

Rosemary Sutcliff, The King Arthur Trilogy
The Sword and the Circle
The Light Beyond the Forest
The Road to Camlann


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Some interesting anthologies and collections of short stories came my way last year. The anthologies included two nicely edited theme anthologies by John Joseph Adams (dystopias and homages to Barsoom), a vamipre themed antholgy edited by Nancy Kilpatrick, a survey of urban fantasy edited by Peter Beagle and a dragon-themed anthology edited by Jack Dann.

Of particular interest were two volumes edited or co-edited by Connie Wilkins: the second volume in a new annual series of anthologies featuring short stories with lesbian protagonists; and an uneven but engaging selection of alternate history short stories with a focus on queer protagonists as nexi of change.

I was also delighted to be able to obtain a copy of an anthology edited by Nisi Shawl of short stories written by authors of colour who attended Clarion as Octavia E. Butler Scholars. The anthology was offered by the Carl Brandon Society for a limited time as a fund-raising project and is no longer available.

Peter Beagle (ed.), The Urban Fantasy Anthology
John Joseph Adams (ed.), Under the Moons of Mars
John Joseph Adams (ed.), Brave New Worlds
Nancy Kilpatrick (ed.), Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead
Jack Dann (ed.), The Dragon Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy
Nisi Shawl (ed.), Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars
Connie Wilkins & Steve Berman (eds.), Heiresses of Russ 2012
Connie Wilkins (ed.), Time Well-Bent: Queer Alternative Histories


I also read several collections this year, including two more volunes from PM Press's Outspoken Authors series, featuring work by and interviews with Nalo Hopkinson and Kim Stanley Robinson.

Other collections of works by SFF writers included: a set of novellas from Mercedes Lackey featuring two familiar characters, Jennifer Talldeer and Diana Tregarde, and a new heroine, techno-shaman Ellen McBride; a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Bear featuring forensic sorcerer Abigail Irene Garrett; short stories by Maureen McHugh; and forays ibto the fantasy realm of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.

In honour of Alice Munro, this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature, I read a collection of her more recent short stories (and plan on reading several more in the coming months - I've always loved her work and am delighted that she has been so deservedly recognised). Also worthy of note was Drew Hayden Taylor's collection of stories set among the residents of the fictional Otter Lake First Nations reserve, and Margaret Laurence's short stories set in Ghana. In the realm of historical fiction, There were stories by Margaret Frazer featuring medieval nun and master sleuth Dame Frevisse; I discovered and devoured Frazer's novels last year, and will speak of them in a later post.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Lucky Strike 
Nalo Hopkinson, Report from Planet Midnight
Mercedes Lackey, Trio of Sorcery
Elizabeth Bear, Garrett Investigates
Maureen McHugh, After the Apocalypse
Lloyd Alexander, The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain

Margaret Laurence, The Tomorrow-Tamer
Margaret Frazer, Sins of the Blood
Drew Hayden Taylor, Fearless Warriors
Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

All in all, I found a wide range of short fiction to enjoy this year.

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