Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Below the Radar: What do you wish readers would try?

Okay, here’s a summary of the titles that have come up so far in comments related to the last post, here and on Goodreads:

1. The Steerswoman series by Kirstein. A couple of you said no no, it’s not under the radar! But I think it kind of is now, among the general population of readers, even if it was more noticed at the time it was originally published. I mean, *I* didn’t notice it in 1989, and I never would have realized it existed, much less tried it, if some of you here hadn’t mentioned it. So I’m tentatively leaving it on the under-the-radar list.

If you ask, she will answer. If she asks, you must reply. A steerswoman will speak only the truth to you, as long as she knows it—and you must do the same for her. And so, across the centuries, the Steerswomen— questioning, searching, investigating—have slowly learned more and more about the world through which they wander. All knowledge the Steerswomen possess is given freely to those who ask. But there is one kind of knowledge that has always been denied them: Magic.

When the steerswoman Rowan discovers a small, lovely blue jewel of obviously magical origin, her innocent questions lead to secret after startling secret, each more dangerous than the last—and suddenly Rowan must flee or fight for her life. Or worse, she must lie.

2. Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson.

Katie Chandler had always heard that New York is a weird and wonderful place, but this small-town Texas gal had no idea how weird until she moved there. Everywhere she goes, she sees something worth gawking at and Katie is afraid she’s a little too normal to make a splash in the big city. Working for an ogre of a boss doesn’t help.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Katie gets a job offer from Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., a company that provides tricks of the trade to the magic community. For MSI, Katie’s ordinariness is an asset.

Lacking any bit of magic, she can easily spot a fake spell, catch hidden clauses in competitor’s contracts, and detect magically disguised intruders. Suddenly, average Katie is very special indeed.

She quickly learns that office politics are even more complicated when your new boss is a real ogre, and you have a crush on the sexy, shy, ultra powerful head of the R&D department, who is so busy fighting an evil competitor threatening to sell black magic on the street that he seems barely to notice Katie. Now it’s up to Katie to pull off the impossible: save the world and–hopefully–live happily ever after.

3. ThiefTaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson.

Boston, 1767: In D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, revolution is brewing as the British Crown imposes increasingly onerous taxes on the colonies, and intrigue swirls around firebrands like Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. But for Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker who makes his living by conjuring spells that help him solve crimes, politics is for others…until he is asked to recover a necklace worn by the murdered daughter of a prominent family.

Suddenly, he faces another conjurer of enormous power, someone unknown, who is part of a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power in the turbulent colony. His adversary has already killed—and not for his own gain, but in the service of his powerful masters, people for whom others are mere pawns in a game of politics and power. Ethan is in way over his head, and he knows it. Already a man with a dark past, he can ill afford to fail, lest his livelihood be forfeit. But he can’t stop now, for his magic has marked him, so he must fight the odds, even though he seems hopelessly overmatched, his doom seeming certain at the spectral hands of one he cannot even see.

4. Twelve Kingdoms series by Jeffe Kennedy

The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, heir to the kingdom. The youngest, the sweet beauty with her Prince Charming. No one says much about the middle princess, Andromeda. Andi, the other one.

Andi doesn’t mind being invisible. She enjoys the company of her horse more than court, and she has a way of blending into the shadows. Until the day she meets a strange man riding, who keeps company with wolves and ravens, who rules a land of shapeshifters and demons. A country she’d thought was no more than legend–until he claims her as its queen.

In a moment everything changes: Her father, the wise king, becomes a warlord, suspicious and strategic. Whispers call her dead mother a traitor and a witch. Andi doesn’t know if her own instincts can be trusted, as visions appear to her and her body begins to rebel.

For Andi, the time to learn her true nature has come. . .

5. Another Twelve Kingdoms series, this one by Fuyumi Ono. This one seems harder to find than some, but (fairly pricey paper) copies are available on Amazon.

For high-schooler Yoko Nakajima, life has been fairly ordinary–that is until Keiki, a young man with golden hair, tells Yoko they must return to their kingdom. Once confronted by this mysterious being and whisked away to an unearthly realm, Yoko is left with only a magical sword; a gem; and a million questions about her destiny, the world she’s trapped in, and the world she desperately wants to return to.

6. Jasper Fford’s work. Here’s one that’s not part of the Thursday series and in fact looks like a much more serious SF kind of story: Shades of Gray.

Part social satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, Shades of Grey tells of a battle against overwhelming odds. In a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing, Eddie Russet belongs to the low-level House of Red and can see his own color—but no other. The sky, the grass, and everything in between are all just shades of grey, and must be colorized by artificial means.

Eddie’s world wasn’t always like this. There’s evidence of a never-discussed disaster and now, many years later, technology is poor, news sporadic, the notion of change abhorrent, and nighttime is terrifying: no one can see in the dark. Everyone abides by a bizarre regime of rules and regulations, a system of merits and demerits, where punishment can result in permanent expulsion.

Eddie, who works for the Color Control Agency, might well have lived out his rose-tinted life without a hitch. But that changes when he becomes smitten with Jane, a Grey, which is low-caste in this color-centric world. She shows Eddie that all is not well with the world he thinks is just and good. Together, they engage in dangerous revolutionary talk.

Stunningly imaginative, very funny, tightly plotted, and with sly satirical digs at our own society, this novel is for those who loved Thursday Next but want to be transported somewhere equally wild, only darker; a world where the black and white of moral standpoints have been reduced to shades of grey.

7. Lazette Gifford’s work, such as the Devlin’s Team series . Hanneke warns that this self-published author lets more typos and grammatical errors slip through than would be ideal, but recommends her work anyway. I must say that the description below sounds catchy to me. I like the idea of the native creature. If Gifford’s done her homework with species design, I might really like that.

Devlin is a top agent for the Inner Worlds Council Security force — a spy in common terms — and she’s not very happy with an assignment to the backwater world of Forest. Settled by the Work for Man fanatics, the government has restricted not only the use of tech equipment but also regulate nearly every aspect of life for the small population. The settlement is boring and the people don’t like outsiders.

There is one anomaly, though: The brutal show known as bear dancing pits a human against a native life form. Devlin’s work is to learn about the show and report what she can about the bears themselves because there is suddenly outside interest.

The people involved in the bear dance are secretive. She’s gathered all the information she thinks she can, and she’s ready to move on. However, when a top-ranking scientist arrives on world, Devlin thinks she might be able to pick up a little bit more information.

And that’s something the locals fear.

8. The Summer King Chronicles by Jess E. Owen

Shard is a gryfon in danger. He and other young males of the Silver Isles are old enough to fly, hunt, and fight–old enough to be threats to their ruler, the red gryfon king.

In the midst of the dangerous initiation hunt, Shard takes the unexpected advice of a strange she-wolf who seeks him out, and hints that Shard’s past isn’t all that it seems. To learn his past, Shard must abandon the future he wants and make allies of those the gryfons call enemies.

When the gryfon king declares open war on the wolves, it throws Shard’s past and uncertain future into the turmoil between.

Now with battle lines drawn, Shard must decide whether to fight beside his king… or against him.

9. In a comment on Goodreads, Sherwood Smith suggested Ghost Point by James Hetley. I will add that I loved Hetley’s duology Powers and Dominions and highly recommend them. If I’d thought of them the other day, those are the ones I would have suggested rather than Steerswoman, because Hetley’s work is definitely under the radar.

About Ghost Point, Goodreads says:

Eight years ago, Dennis Carlsson returned from Vietnam with a chest full of medals, a head full of nightmares, and a plastic foot. Now he just wants the world to leave him alone on his isolated point of Maine coast, caring for injured animals and living as simply as he can.

However, both real and spirit worlds have other plans for his guardian strength. His nightmares have followed him home in a face from those memories, wildlife biologist Susan Tranh — prickly as a porcupine and with some strange bond to eagles, stalked by criminals for no reason she can see.

Tied deep into land and lore, the Haskell Witches know a lot more about Ghost Point than he does. The Naskeag tribe calls his home Spirit Point, a place to meet spirits and find visions. They avoid the place because they know the spirit world is dangerous.

And winter has its own deadly agenda…

10. Also from a comment on Goodreads, Megan says as far as she can tell Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace is still under the radar, even though it was nominated for multiple awards last year. I would certainly love to see it on everybody’s TBR list — it’s a great book, one of my favorites from last year.

Wasp’s job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They’re chosen. They’re special. Or so they’ve been told for four hundred years.

Archivist Wasp fears she is not the chosen one, that she won’t survive the trip to the underworld, that the brutal life she has escaped might be better than where she is going. There is only one way to find out.

Update:

11. From Twitter, @quartzen adds several more recommendations, starting with Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

I definitely second the motion for Hoffman! I only discovered her a few years ago. My personal favorite of hers is A Fistful of Sky, which incidentally is one of the stories that reads exactly like YA but with a protagonist in her early twenties.

The LaZelle family of southern California has a secret: they can do magic. Real magic. As a teenager, a LaZelle undergoes “the Transition”–a severe illness that will either kill him or leave him with magical powers. If he’s lucky, he gains a talent like shape-changing or wish-granting. If he’s unlucky, he never experiences Transition. If he’s especially unlucky, he undergoes Transition late, which increases his chances of dying. And if he survives, he will bear the burden of a dark, dangerous magic: the ability to cast only curses. And curse he must, for when a LaZelle doesn’t use his magic, it kills him.In Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s A Fistful of Sky, Gypsum LaZelle is unique among her brothers and sisters: she has not undergone Transition. She resigns herself to a mundane, magic-bereft existence as a college student. Then one weekend, when her family leaves her home alone, she becomes gravely ill…

Other works and authors @quartzen adds:

12. Five-Twelfths of Heaven and the rest of the trilogy by Melissa Scott.

In a space-faring civilization where a single woman is increasingly sisenfranchised, the star pilot Silence Leigh is defrauded from her inheritance by a greedy competitor. Forced to ally with two men, Silence is dragged into a deadly political struggle, and is tantalized by the hints of the legendary Earth, as well as the dread and the glory of Magi’s power. Her dreams of having her own ship and of escape from the Hegemony’s oppressions take on new direction and focus when she joins the crew of “The Sun-Treader.”

13. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi

You’ve never read a fantasy novel like this one! The deep well of Japanese myth merges with the Western fantasy tradition for a novel that’s as rich in place and culture as it is hard to put down.

Balsa was a wanderer and warrior for hire. Then she rescued a boy flung into a raging river — and at that moment, her destiny changed. Now Balsa must protect the boy — the Prince Chagum — on his quest to deliver the great egg of the water spirit to its source in the sea. As they travel across the land of Yogo and discover the truth about the spirit, they find themselves hunted by two deadly enemies: the egg-eating monster Rarunga . . . and the prince’s own father.

Update 2

In the comments to the previous post, Mona added:

14. Spinning Starlight by RC Lewis.

Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men shows up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home—a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans strings the heart of the classic with a stunning, imaginative world as a star-crossed family fights for its very survival.

15. As Old as Time by Liz Braswell, which is a Beauty and the Beast retelling I hadn’t previously heard of:

Belle is a lot of things: smart, resourceful, restless. She longs to escape her poor provincial town for good. She wants to explore the world, despite her father’s reluctance to leave their little cottage in case Belle’s mother returns—a mother she barely remembers. Belle also happens to be the captive of a terrifying, angry beast. And that is her primary concern.

But Belle touches the Beast’s enchanted rose, intriguing images flood her mind—images of the mother she believed she would never see again. Stranger still, she sees that her mother is none other than the beautiful Enchantress who cursed the Beast, his castle, and all its inhabitants. Shocked and confused, Belle and the Beast must work together to unravel a dark mystery about their families that is twenty-one years in the making.

16. Charlie N Holmberg’s work. Let’s see, here’s one that sounds unusual: The Fifth Doll.

After discovering a room full of matryoshka dolls wearing the faces of her village, a woman learns she may be trapped inside one–but unraveling the sorcery carved into each doll unleashes dark consequences that rip her from the only home she remembers.

17. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. It’s my turn to say I didn’t think this one was under the radar; it seems to me I’ve seen a lot of buzz about it.

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

18. Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee. Nothing of Tanith Lee’s has ever worked for me personally . . . not that I have tried a great many of hers . . . I don’t know, maybe I would like this YA title better?

All her life, Claidi has endured hardship in the House, where she must obey a spoiled princess. Then a golden stranger arrives, living proof of a world beyond the House walls. Claidi risks all to free the charming prisoner and accompanies him across the Waste toward his faraway home. It is a difficult yet marvelous journey, and all the while Claidi is at the side of a man she could come to love. That is, until they reach his home . . . and the Wolf Tower.

Feel free to add other under-the-radar titles in the comments!

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5 Comments Below the Radar: What do you wish readers would try?

  1. KK

    Just added Enchanted, Inc. to my Kindle so I can read it while at the veterinarian today.

    A word of caution on ThiefTaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson. I was enjoying the story until the main character killed a dog. At which point I put the brand new, never-been-read, hard back book on the shelf of a free library.

  2. Katy K.

    I feel like Sarah Zettel isn’t nearly well enough known. I’m particularly fond of her YA American Fairy trilogy, which begins with Dust Girl. But I’ve been thinking about her debut novel, the adult sci-fi Fool’s War, a lot recently as well.

  3. mona

    I haven’t read Moribito, but I’ve watched the anime twice. Great story and well told.

    Now I really want to read A Fistful of Sky!

  4. Elaine T

    I’m also fond of Fool’s War . I read her second and third as well, but then she disappeared.

    Hoffman… I really liked her first couple, but as I read more books it seemed like I was reading the same story over and over, just with different names. So I stopped for several years. When I tried one recently (within the last two years) it both wasn’t all that interesting – albeit it didn’t read like I’d read it before – and I thought the story had no point. So… color my recommendation of Hoffman as tepid.

    I did NOT enjoy Ghost Point . What I recall is an overwhelming sense of stupid. If I’d read it before Powers I’d probably never have picked up the latter.

    i really enjoyed Melissa Scott’s Five Twelfths & sequels lo these many years ago. And they’ve been prodding my mind to get them off the shelf and reread. And, hey, there IS an kindle omnibus for a very reasonable price. (prefer e-books for pain in hands reasons; too much mousing on projects a few years ago, and too much knitting..)

    I thought the Teen might be interested in Moribito , but I hadn’t even finished reading aloud the first line of description when I heard rejection. Although I was permitted to finish, and got at the end: Bleagh. Apparently has run into it, and wasn’t impressed.

    We’re both going to look into the Ono Twelve Kingdoms, though. That one looks promising.

    More for the under the radar list: Michael Scott Rohan’s Winter of the World (first book is ANVIL OF THE ICE,) and Spiral (first book is CHASE THE MORNING.) I’ve brought up WotW before, when you were wanting characters with wings, as the main character does make functional solar powered wings in #3. He thought about the flora, fauna, and climes of an ice age, too.

    Also Helen Lowe’s HEIR OF NIGHT quartet (waiting on #4). The first one looks bog standard and I wouldn’t have stuck even to half way through except the guy who recommended it also likes McKillip and pointed me to you. So I trusted him, and it did turn very interesting somewhere along the way. Certainly by book 2 when the story opens out a lot and skips ten years – saving us the ‘training montage’ installment.

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