Here are six books to bring with you into the holiday season, whether you need something to make you laugh, to help you escape for a bit, to make you feel epic, or to satisfy your desire for revenge now that your brother has once again stolen the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers to bring back to college like a big jerky jerk.
- Pocketful of Crows (Joanne M. Harris) – an elegant, vicious tale that does its source material proud, with prose like a brew of incantation and folk rhyme. Based on one of the Childe Ballads about a wild brown girl, and structured to follow the pace of the seasons, this is a witchy, wonderful story of love and revenge. Best read in a dark room with lots of candles.
- Ink (Alice Broadway) – I love the idea of a society that inks each person’s deeds on their skin, preserving stories and sins alike through life and into death. Ink‘s world is a fascinating one, and protagonist Leora is an excellent guide through its intricacies, though she does remain a bit naive for too long. The execution is not flawless, and there are some holes in the psychologies of the characters. Still, the world is compelling and its rituals are just so fascinating. I felt like an anthropologist uncovering a lost civilization.
- Lost Boy (Christina Henry) – Anything Christina Henry writes is an auto-buy for me now that I’ve read her Alice duology. Her stories are cruel to the point of depravity, but always saved by characters who face the horror and do not yield. Henry begins her stories from innocence and ends with bitter experience, but you never feel sorry for that. Redemption, always hard-won, is her specialty, and the redemption of Captain Hook against a malicious Peter Pan is another knockout.
- Tiger’s Daughter (K. Arsenault Rivera) – oh my goodness what a ride. This is Epic with a capital E. There are so many scenes that feel absolutely iconic, like the story was woven from Kurosawa footage, Water Margin manuscripts, and Clint Eastwood’s steely glare. Also, a fierce queer romance between a hotheaded swordswoman and a strong-and-silent archer? Hell yes.
- Skinful of Shadows (Frances Hardinge) – Frances Hardinge is another auto-buy for me, and this one was even better than her Costa-winning Lie Tree. In Skinful of Shadows, I spent the first hundred pages thinking I could guess what would happen, and missing the mark every time, until I just gave up and hung on for the wild ride. It’s not often I can be so consistently and delightedly surprised by characters and the narrative as a whole, but Hardinge is a master. Do not miss this one.
- Spellslinger (Sebastien de Castell)- What is a spell? Is it an incantation that calls on the mystical source of all magic through one of its six elements (blood, sand, ember, iron, breath, and silk, lest you fear yet another Aristotelian cliche)? Or is it the words you use to escalate a fight or woo your crush? What constitutes power, and what knowledge? Sebastien de Castell wants you to think about these questions in between explosions, battles, duels, and daring rescues, and also between sarcastic quipping. Now add Rocket Racoon to that, if Rocket had a penchant for eyeballs instead of guns, and you’ve got Spellslinger.