So, we’ve seen a flurry of recommendations in the comments here recently. Let me pull some out and take a look. (If you have recently made a recommendation and I missed it, drop it BACK in the comments to THIS post, and I’ll try to pay better attention next time.)
All right, here we go.
Alison: I’d like to (again) recommend Fire Logic and Earth Logic by Laurie Marks: great world building, great writing, amazing symbolism, great story, great endings. I think I may prefer Earth Logic (the sequel) to Fire Logic because of the baker, but, no spoilers.
1. Fire Logic by Laurie Marks
In the border regions of northern Shaftal, the peaks of the mountains loom over hardscrabble farmholds. The farmers there build with stone and grow in stone, and they might even be made of stone themselves, they are so sturdy in the face of the long, bitter winter that comes howling down at them from the mountains.
The stone town of Kisha would have been as insignificant as all the northern towns, if not for the fact that Makapee, the first G’deon, had lived and died there. His successor, Lilter, had discovered the manuscript of the book in which were laid out the principles that were to shape Shaftal. Suring the next two hundred years, the library built to house the Makapee manuscript had transformed the humble town into an important place, a town of scholars and librarians who gathered there to study and care for the largest collection of books in the country. The library had in turn spawned a university, and the scholars, forced to live in the bitter northern climate, tried to make their months of shivering indoors by a smoky peat fire into an intellectual virtue.
All setting and backstory! I don’t dislike it, though, and that’s because of the writing itself. If you’re going to open with setting and backstory rather than with the story, then it’s a good idea to have sentences such as “build with stone and grow in stone and might even be made of stone themselves” and so on.
Where does the story start? Ah, in the very next paragraph. “Emil Paladin considered frostbite a small price to pay for the privilege of being a student in the university at Kisha.” Nothing’s happening yet, but as far as I’m concerned, when the protagonist steps onto the stage, the story has probably begun. If not, there may be a problem.
I will add, “Emil PALADIN,” really?
Alison again: I also recommend Joel Shepherd’s Tracato series (free on Kindle Unlimited) which starts with Sasha, again great world building, but it’s very dense and may not be for everyone.
2. Sasha by Joel Shepherd
Sasha circled, a light shift and slide of soft boots on compacted earth. The point of her wooden stanch marked the circle’s centre, effortlessly extended from her two-fisted grip. Opposite, Teriyan the leather worker matched her motion, stanch likewise unwavering, bare arms knotted with hard muscle. Sasha’s eyes beheld his form without true focus. She watched his centre, not the face, nor the feet, nor especially the wooden training blade in his strong, calloused hands.
An intricate tattoo of flowing black lines rippled upon Teriyan’s bicep as his arm flexed. Thick red hair stirred in a gust of wind, tangled where it fell long and partly braided down his back. High above, an eagle called, launched to flight from the row of pines on the northern ridge overlooking the Baelyn valley of central Valhanan province. The westerly sun was fading above the ridge, settling among the pines, casting long, looming shadows. The valley’s entire length was alive with golden light, gleaming off the wood-shingled roofs of the houses that lined the central road and brightening the green pastures to either side. Nearby, several young horses frolicked, and exuberance of hooves and gleaming manes and tails. From a nearby circle, there came an eruption of yells above the repeated clash of wooden blades. Then a striking thud, and a pause for breath.
Here we are opening in the story. This is a good example of integrating action into the setting so that you’re building character and setting at the same time. I can’t take the world “frolicked” seriously. It just looks silly to me. Despite my personal distaste for that word, this introduction appeals to me.
One more from Alison: My January favorite read was not fantasy or sci fi, it was Jackson Pearce’s Six Ways to Write a Love Letter, which is all about songwriting and performing and is a romance but super well done. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited.
3. Six Ways to Write a Love Letter by Jackson Pierce
It was midmorning when Remy woke up. Or at least it was probably morning. It was hard to tell sometimes in Venice Beach — the area had that yawning, cheerful sense of dawn late into the day. The sun was always fresh and white-gold, the shadows always gentle and beckoning, the scent of hibiscus and sand and salt always bright in the air.
Nice writing there, but I’m biased. I read this contemporary romance last week, and a review will be appearing shortly. I will just say here that I loved it.
Mary Anderson: I wanted to recommend The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen. I picked it up fairly randomly and read it last weekend, and was so pleasantly surprised. Loved the characters, the world building and didn’t stumble over the writing. I kept trying to figure out if I was reading steampunk, or western fantasy, or alternate world. It was cool, and fun.
It was always a gamble, dropping off a body at Birdsall & Son, Undertakers, but this morning, the Bride of Fortune favored Hart Ralstone.
Out of habit, he ducked his head as he stepped into the lobby so that he wouldn’t smack his forehead on the doorframe. Bold-colored paintings of the death gods — the Salt Sea, the Warden, and Grandfather Bones — decorated the walls in gold frames. Two green velvet armchairs sat in front of a walnut coffee table, their whimsical lines imbuing the room with an upbeat charm. Vintage coffee bean tins served as homes for pens and candy on a counter that was polished to a sheen. This was not the somber, staid lobby of a respectable place like Cunningham’s Funeral Services. This was the appalling warmth of an undertaker who welcomed other people’s deaths with open arms.
Now, that is funny and unexpected! Actual undertakers — and that last line there is also funny and unexpected. I like this a lot.
5. Halls of Law by VM Escalada (Violette Malan).
Kerida Nast stood at ease outside the Cohort Leader’s tent, trying hard not to look as though she was listening to the discussion inside. That the Cohort Leader was her older sister Ester wouldn’t make much difference to her punishment if she were caught.
“You people checked her every year from ten to fifteen — like everyone else in the Polity — and never found anything,” her sister was saying. “Talents just don’t manifest this late.”
“It is rare.” the dry voice of the Talent Inquisitor sounded familiar. Kerida held her breath. “but rare is not impossible. We have the right to investigate every reported occurrence of Talent, no matter the circumstances.”
That’s the beginning of a prologue. I didn’t page ahead to see how long a prologue this might be. I’m not especially interested right off the bat. This looks pretty much like The Chosen One With The Special Talent. Talents just don’t manifest this late. I’m sure that when they do, it’s very special. I will add, the inclusion of griffins in this world naturally makes me more interested. From the acknowledgments at the front, it’s clear the griffins are important and, like dragons, griffins improve almost any story.
Melanie provided several recommendations. Here’s her first:
In YA fantasy, I’d recommend Hilari Bell. … My favourite is the Farsala trilogy – After their highly stratified kingdom is overrun by a neighbouring country, which is kinda like Rome, 3 teenagers from 3 different classes end up working to fight back for independence, and to preserve the best parts of their country, each in their own way, also learning to work together. I enjoyed the worldbuilding and magic, the plotting, and the themes of legendary tales being reimagined to meet current needs.
6. The Farsala trilogy by Hilari Bell.
Jiaan ducked, and a bronze cup shaped like a ram’s horn crashed into the wall behind him. It didn’t clatter on the floor, since the thick carpets that had already absorbed its contents muffled the sound. He hoped the carpets wouldn’t be too hard to clean. Jiaan knew that some people found it harder than others to fight off the djinn of rage. But he didn’t think the lady Soraya was even trying.
“Lady, if you’ll just lis–“
“I have listened,” the girl snarled. Her grip tightened on the second cup.
Followed by a detailed physical description of the girl, who was “probably the most beautifully feminine creature Jiaan had ever seen,” so, I mean, that’s a bit of a turnoff for me personally. However, given the description, I would of course turn the page.
Also from Melanie: Also excellent is A Matter of Profit, a standalone novel about interstellar conquest with a pacifist twist. All her work is fun to read and also thought provoking.
7. A Matter of Profit, also by Hilari Bell.
He would have to tell his father. He couldn’t tell his father.
Ahvren hoisted his three overstuffed gear bags and tried not to let his reluctance slow his feet as he boarded the shuttle that would take the spaceline’s passengers down to T’Chin. The voyage from teh Mirmanidan had lasted five interminable months. Ahvren was probably the only one aboard who wished it had lasted longer.
That’s a great couple of sentences to kick off this story. I’m immediately interested and sympathetic. Now, that could change, depending on what Ahvren’s problem turns out to be. But my immediately feeling is very positive.
This is also one of the few beginnings that succeeds even though it avoid using the protagonist’s name in the first sentence, that uses a pronoun instead. I think that may be because the first two sentences are so short and the name is provided in the next paragraph.
Another from Melanie: In YA SF, I’d recommend Maria V. Snyders trilogy Sentinels of the Galaxy. I love the main character here, her relationship with her archaeologist parents, and her growth throughout the story. I think the plotting is very well done, though it is not fast paced. This feels like older YA to me than Bell’s trilogy above. (Even more than above, I do NOT recommend Snyders’ latest series, Archives of the Invisible Sword. I tried the first book, and it was so persistently gruesome it felt more like grimdark to me. The series may end hopefully, but I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t stand it.)
8. Sentinels of the Galaxy trilogy by Maria V Snyders, first book Navigating the Stars
“The answer is no, Lyra.” My mother utters her favorite — I swear — phrase.
“End of discussion.”
Arguing is usually futile. But I’m not about to give up. Not this time.
We are having dinner in our housing unit. I’m picking at my reconstituted mashed potatoes, wilted broccoli and mystery protein … er … meat … while my dad scans his list of packing supplies on his portable, only half-listening to my mother’s efforts to convince me that traveling to the new planet will be a grand adventure.
Sounds like there’s plenty of room for growth, as at the moment Lyra sounds like a bit of a twerp.
One more from Melanie: in romance, I’d recommend Jo Beverley. And here I can happily say I like everything by Jo Beverley. She wrote many historical romances set in England: some in the Medieval period, more in Georgian times, and even more in the Regency. All of them are well researched and give you a good sense of the mood and atmosphere of their settings. Most are not low tension, they have quite a bit of high stakes adventure built in. The writing quality seems really good to me, though I am not an expert in that like some people here. I can say that they are intelligent and entertaining. My favourite would be the Malloren series, set in Georgian times, starting with My Lady Notorious. The series gets better as it goes on, so I’m not exactly sure how to suggest you read it. The individual novels do benefit from being read in order, but don’t need to be. My favourite 2 are Secrets of the Night, and Winter Fire.
Why be a slave to convention, right? Here is
9. Winter Fire, by Jo Beverly, book six in its series.
“Many people pray for tedium,” Genova Smith’s mother had often said to her as a girl if she complained that she was bored. It had not convinced her then, and didn’t now. Two long days in a slow-moving coach, no matter how luxurious, had tested her tolerance to the breaking point.
I certainly like Genova’s mother’s turns of phrase better than Lyra’s. I may start quoting that whenever someone complains they’re bored. Of course I’m a big, big fan of a tedious life myself. I have stuff to do. My personal motto could be “No Excitement, Please.”
Okay, of the above, I am have already read Six Ways. I’m most likely to start Fire Logic because people keep mentioning it. I’m drawn to A Matter of Profit, though I know two paragraphs is not enough to actually decide to read something. I think the writing itself looks exceptionally good in The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, but good in many of these.
Meanwhile! Nine is not a round number.
10. Something to recommend? Drop it in the comments!