Today’s Wyrd and Wonder prompt comes just at the right time, as I have amassed a list of as yet unreviewed books that come in small packages. Here are some novellas and one novelette that I read and loved lately.
Five Star Reads
Moses Ose Utomi – The Lies of the Ajungo
Having picked this up mostly on the basis of its gorgeous cover (and of course the description), I wasn’t expecting anything in particular from this very short book by Moses Ose Utomi. At barely 100 pages, it would at best give me a couple of hours of entertainment, right? Well… yes, but it also made me cry.
They say there is no water in the City of Lies. They say there are no heroes in the City of Lies. They say there are no friends beyond the City of Lies. But would you believe what they say in the City of Lies?
In the City of Lies, they cut out people’s tongues when they turn thirteen. Just before his thirteenth birthday, Tutu decides to save his city and his mother by going out into the desert and doing what nobody has managed before him: find water! What he finds instead is the answer to a lot of questions, he uncovers truths that have been hidden, and he makes friends along the way.
This book reads like a fairytale but it manages to pack so much emotion that it overwhelmed me with how much I cared. I loved everything about it, the characters, the plot, the twists and turns, event he heartbreak. And I cannot wait for the next one in the series and whatever else Utomi writes after that!
Alix E. Harrow – The Six Deaths of the Saint (novelette)
Harrow strikes again, this time with the tale of a young girl who becomes the king’s most valuable knight, at quite the cost. To say very much about this story is to take away from its gut-punch quality, so I’ll have to remain rather vague. But it’s Alix E. Harrow, so if you’ve read her before, you know you can trust her capable writerly hands.
I fully expected to love this story but I didn’t expect it to go the way it did. Set in a medieval-ish world, with kings and knights in armor and all that, the first twist came as a surprise and made me quite happy with how well it worked. But then Harrow keeps them coming, right until the end, and even manages to sneak in a tender, heartbreaking side plot. With a cast of just a handful of characters, she paints a picture so vivid that it aches when you close the book. I felt like I was there with the lady knight and the saint that keeps her going.
Four Star Reads
Kelly Barnhill – The Crane Husband
I finally read my first Kelly Barnhill book and it’s one loosely based on a fairy tale called The Crane Wife. In this sinister novella, Barnhill explores a world mostly like ours, but just far enough removed that a mother can bring home a crane one day, whom she treads as a husband, and nobody finding this particularly odd. We see this story unfold through the eyes of the older daughter, who not only takes care of her young brother, but also of her artist mother’s finances, her sales, and the household.
With the arrival of the titular crane husband, their already difficult life, is turned upside down. Barnhill explores dark themes in her novella, ranging from domestic abuse to depression, absentee parents, and much more.
I can’t say this was a particularly enjoyable story in terms of content, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t deeply engaging. The protagonist is such a strong person in her own right but she also sees the strenght in her seemily weak mother. And she’ll do anything to keep her little brother safe, so you can’t help but root for her. But happy, this story is not.
Seanan McGuire – (Where the Drowned Girls Go) and Lost in the Moment and Found
The latest Wayward Children was a good one again, but for completion’s sake, I’ll briefly talk about the one I didn’t like that much. Where the Drowned Girls Go was about Cora who lived in a mermaid world prior to coming back to our world, and she hasn’t been my favorite character to put it mildly. The good news is that I found her perfectly likeable in this novella, the bad news is that nothing about the story is particularly surprising, entertaining, or doing anything to push the series as such forward. Cora goes to the “other” school for Wayward Children, where the children are taught to suppress/deny their journey to whichever Otherland they went to. From there, everything evolves exactly the way you’d expect. End novella.
Much better – and even a contender for my favorite Wayward Child, alongside Across the Green Grass Fields – was Lost in the Moment and Found, in which a young girl loses her father, gains a stepfather and, with him, a lot of serious problems. The emotional manipulation and abuse Antsy has to endure hit me right in the heart and so her escape felt very much like a relief. The old curiosity shop where she ends up holds secrets of its own, though, and they make this instalment in the series especially heartbreaking.
P. Djèlí Clark – The Black God’s Drums
And I finally caught up on my P. Djèlí Clark stuff. I enjoyed this novella as an audiobook and I think that greatly enhanced the experience, what with the accents and all. Set in a steampunky version of New Orleans, we follow Creeper, a teenager living in the streets but dreaming of becoming an airship pirate. Oh and she also has a secret that could come in handy with that plan.
As always, I love Clark’s writing, the way he sets a scene and brings it to life so easily. Creeper is a great protagonist and discovering this world and the secrets it holds through her eyes was a pleasure. The plot did get a bit convoluted for a novella, or maybe I had trouble concentrating well enough with the audio version, but I felt like I lost track around the middle of who was looking for whom for what reason. At the end, everything came together really well and the book was well worth the listen. But compared to the masterwork that is Ring Shout, I had to take off one star.
Nghi Vo – When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
Chih and Almost Brilliant are at it again. “It” being the discovery of interesting and beautiful stories that their land has to offer, that is. This time, there are tigers involved, and it’s every bit as magical as you expect.
I adored The Empress of Salt and Fortune and I am so happy that Nghi Vo continued this series of novellas (Her novel Siren Queen and I didn’t get along quite as well, I’m sad to say). But these stories are as gorgeous as their Alissa Wynans covers, filled with mythology and magic and women that can also be tigers. Entering these novellas is like jumping into a new world, one with wonders to discover on every page, and stories to unfold. Stories that are slightly different, it turns out, depending on who tells them.
I don’t have much more to say than this is another excellent story in the Singing Hills Cycle and I look forward to the next one.