Most of my book reviewing has been over on Fantasy Literature lately, but I want to take a moment and talk about the amazing streak of really good reading I’ve been doing. Perhaps Scott Hutchins’s A Working Theory of Love was the charm, because throughout August I read a number of brilliant books and the streak continues (for the most part) into September.
Here’s a sampling:
World of Trouble by Ben H Winters. Winters completes his Last Policeman trilogy in the last week before the asteroid hits earth. Hank Palace’s mystery, in the final book, is personal. He is still searching for his sister Niko. Niko represents one kind of hope as the end of live on earth looms; Hank represents another. The mystery is a bit predictable; the characters, and Hank’s insights, are not. The book is filled with authentic moments, terrible moments, funny moments and a sense of connection and optimism even as the end arrives.
Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, by Joe Hill, drawing by Gabriel Rodriguez. Volume One of Hill’s mesmerizing dark fantasy opens with a murder of savage violence that leaves a fractured family in its wake. There is more going on than post-traumatic stress, though, as the Locke family moves from California to the island of Lovecraft in Massachusetts, trying to recover from the murder of Rendell Locke, husband and father. The return to the Locke family mansion, Keyhouse, sets a whole new series of events in motion. Hill’s characters are complex; Nina, the widowed mom, is compassionate, strong, and falling headlong into a bottle as she self-medicates. Tyler, the firstborn son, fights his specific guilt over an off-handed remark he made to a classmate before his father was murdered. It is a tribute to Hill’s characterizations that I feel sympathy for the murderer without ever taking his side; and that I empathize with Tyler while I worry that he is a bully. Gabriel Rodriguez’s gorgeous artwork is the perfect match to this dark, terrifying story.
City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett. So, Bennett wakes up one morning and goes, “What haven’t I written yet? I know, a second-world steampunk fantasy with biting social commentary and deep philosophical questions about divinity and faith. Oh, and maybe a totally awesome fight scene on a frozen river with a giant river monster. So I’ll write that.” And then he goes and nails it.
Lock In by John Scalzi. It’s Scalzi; I went into Lock In prepared to like it. I’m not sure I was prepared to come out the other side thinking so hard about things, though. Scalzi uses a police procedural structure to explore how humanity would change if a sizeable part of the population functioned in a non-physical information-world, or used interchangeable robot suits to navigate in the physical realm. The “Hadens” exist because of a virus that creates changes in the human brain, basically locking people into their physical forms with no voluntary movement at all. The technological changes made to meet their needs have pushed humanity to a kind of crossroads. On one level, it’s a mystery and another body-swap book, and like World of Trouble, the mystery is pretty easy. Beyond that, however, are lots of big ideas, well expressed.
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest. On the heels of Lock In I read Maplecroft, a completely different kind of book. Priest takes on Lovecraft-gothic and her main character is famed in jump-rope rhymes; Lizzie Borden. Using a “found manuscript” approach, Priest creates a creepy Lovecraftian world with strong characters and strong conflict. She never misses a beat. This is her best book yet.
These are all reviewed at FanLit. I even got some gentle teasing from the other reviewers, since these were all 4.5-to-5.0 stars, and I’m not known on the site as an easy grader. It just seem like Christmas came early in 2014.
I will say, sadly, that right before Maplecroft I did read a book that broke the streak for me, but overall, it’s pretty hard to complain about what’s out there. Lots of great books. Go read them! You’ll thank me.