The Dragon and the Goddess: Top Ten Reads of 2014

  1. The Turn of the Story – Sarah Rees Brennan
  2. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
  3. Fairytales for Wilde Girls – Allyse Near
  4. On the Steel Breeze – Alastair Reynolds
  5. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  6. Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
  7. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin
  8. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  9. Rose Under Fire – Elizabeth Wein
  10. Nimona – Noelle Stevenson

As if these books are not all wonderful enough, two are available for free online. Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Turn of the Story was intended as an extra for her short story ‘The Wings of the Morning’ (published in Monstrous Affections: an Anthology of Beastly Tales) but kept getting extended into more segments and sort of turned into a novel. It includes the most dangerous pacifist you’re ever likely to meet, his mildly concerned friends, matriarchal elves, a judgemental unicorn and all the fabulous fantasy meta you can stab with a sword. Links to all the chapters are compiled here.

I can LINK again! It’s exciting!

Another excellent online project that engages with fantasy traditions while at the same time totally inverting them is Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic Nimona, about an idealistic supervillain and his entirely unmanageable shapechanging apprentice. It can be read in full here, and a print edition will be released in 2015 with an exclusive epilogue. Creators in any medium usually face a difficult balance between making what they love and making a living; that these women have chosen to share so much of their amazing work free of charge is incredibly generous, and could not be more appreciated.

Happy New Year, and happy reading in 2015!

Review No.233 – Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

Jonathan Cape, 2009

The Poole twins exist in a world of two. When a letter arrives announcing the death of an aunt they did not know they had, who has left them everything she had, they are startled to realise their mother is a twin too – and that twenty years ago something so terrible happened between the sisters that they never saw each other again. Even after her death, Elspeth has not let go of the grievance. If the twins want to keep their legacy, they must leave America and come to live in her London flat for one year. Meanwhile, in England, Elspeth’s lover Robert is struggling to accept her death – and so, for that matter, is Elspeth…

Having enjoyed Niffenegger’s first novel earlier this year, I wanted to read more of her work. The same beautiful language, attention to detail and quietly melancholic atmosphere are all present, but where The Time Traveler’s Wife was tightly plotted with good momentum, Her Fearful Symmetry is much slower to get off the ground. What could have been a very effective modern ghost story comes apart in the second half, depending as it does on bizarre contrivances, and I was left bewildered by the ending. I also think it would make for a frustrating read if you are a twin.

Review No.139 – The Time Traveller’s Wife

The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

Harcourt, Inc., 2004

Clare met Henry for the first time when she was six years old. He told her then that he was a time traveller; a man who, through some accident of genetics, would be abruptly and involuntarily transported into other times and places. He told her he would come back, and he always did. It has been two years since Clare saw him, and when she meets him again she knows everything is about to begin – the life she always knew she was heading towards, promised in snatches of accidental prophecy. The only thing is, Henry has not yet met her. When the past and future are woven into such terrible knots, the most certain things in the world might be the hardest to keep.

The Time Traveller’s Wife is beautifully written, rich with incidental detail that layers depth into all its characters and most of all into its central lovers, Clare and Henry. The structure of the story is unusual; it requires careful reading to follow the convoluted time streams of an extraordinarily strange relationship. The idea of time travel as a genetic disorder, something akin to epilepsy, is bizarre and brilliant and very consistently crafted. This is Niffenegger’s first book – her more recent works include the dreamlike modern fairy tale Raven Girl and a second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, which is now waiting on my To Read list.

The Runaway and the Resurrectionist: My Top 10 Reads of 2013

We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.

– Jonathan Gottschall, ‘The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human’

  1. Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
  2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
  3. Wonders of the Invisible World – Patricia A. McKillip
  4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone/ Days of Blood and Starlight – Laini Taylor
  5. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
  6. Feed – Mira Grant
  7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
  8. Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds
  9. Raven Girl – Audrey Niffenegger
  10. The Diviners – Libba Bray

Honourable mentions on the list must go to two web comics I discovered this year. Girl Genius is a wild gaslamp fantasy with mad science and a cast of fabulous characters headed by the charming and slightly terrifying Agatha Heterodyne, while Nimona fuses science fiction and medieval fantasy into one astoundingly cohesive world, either in peril from the united forces of Ballister Blackheart and his shapechanging apprentice Nimona, or about to be rescued by them. They haven’t decided yet. Very recently I’ve also started following A Hundred Days of Night, a comic based on the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, but with added sarcasm, romance and politics. It’s not very far along yet, but is already tremendous fun. My heartfelt thanks go out to all these creators for making so much remarkable work available online for free!

Review No.113 – Raven Girl

Raven Girl – Audrey Niffenegger

Jonathan Cape, 2013

In a drab and unchanging world, one misplaced letter brings together a postman and a fledgeling raven. The unlikely pair fall in love and conceive a daughter, a human girl with a raven’s soul. Her dream is to become the bird she is inside, but such a transformation is more than even her parents can understand. Is there anyone who can help her fly?

Raven Girl is bewilderingly weird, enchantingly dark and beautifully written, complemented by equally strange, magical illustrations by Niffenegger herself. There are not many authors who could successfully create a true modern fairy tale, but there is no other way to describe this story.