Meadowsweet is, on the surface, a charming slice-of-life novel about a young boy who goes to live with a distracted sculptor in a magical mountain where the sculptures come to life. The boy lacks a father figure, the sculptor lacks a family (though he has a well-meaning-if-a-bit-scary brother-in-law who visits for about half the novel), and the two of them adopt each other over the course of some exploration, picnics, and a scary thunderstorm while preparing for the winter.
Daughter of the Empire begins with Mara, seventeen-year-old heir to the Acoma family, inheriting the title of “Ruling Lady” after her father and brother are tricked to their deaths by the rival Minwanabi house (boo, hiss, we hate them). Mara spends the rest of the book plotting both the survival of her own house and her revenge against the Minwanabi. From needra dung estimates to soldier recruitment to Mara’s own marriage for political gain, Daughter of the Empire considers problems of rule both small and big, and follows Mara’s triumphs and mistakes, but mostly triumphs.
Empire Under a Dying Sun is set in a Greek-inspired fantasy world experiencing a calamity straight out of science fiction (literally, if you’ve read for example Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary) - the sun is dying. With this backdrop, we have four POV characters: A young Empress struggling to find her confidence; her husband, who needs to learn to see the common people as real human beings; an old army general struggling with alcoholism; and his second-in-command, who needs to overcome her childhood trauma at the hands of the empire, and find something worth fighting for other than money. The novel explores these individual stories as well as the ethical dilemmas that arise from limited resources and the dying sun.
When the world is a bad place, sometimes what you want is a quiet, comforting, feel-good, slice-of-life novel that’s the literary equivalent of a kitten and a warm blanket and a fireplace and a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, depending which one you prefer. And that is precisely what Legends & Lattes is: a low-stakes novel about an orc barbarian-turned-barista where the magic is the friendships we make along the way.
Ink follows four lives: a journalist, his source, his brother-in-law, and the daughter of a government worker, through a dystopian America in which immigrants have their status tattooed on their wrists and are treated as less than human by the majority of the population. At the start of the novel, the government is opening “inkatoriums,” centralized holding facilities for immigrants (“inks”), and the plot glides between following this development and following our characters as they go about their individual lives, through joy and heartbreak.
Five Magic Spindles is a collection of five retellings of Sleeping Beauty. They range from fairly traditional (the second one, extremely skippable) to barely recognizable as a Sleeping Beauty retelling (the first one) to somewhere in between (the rest). Sleeping Beauty is a hard fairy tale to do a good retelling of, but perhaps that’s why (other than the one that’s a very faithful retelling) these retellings ended up so incredibly goddamn cool!
This is the best series I’ve read since Green Bone Saga, and it’s not even close. If that’s enough of an endorsement (and it should be), just go read it without knowing anything else.
Features of Bluebird include a librarian girlfriend; strong anti-military, anti-colonial messages; a great reluctant partnership complete with nicknames and banter; and a very Firefly, space-western vibe. It’s written in a stylized third-person present-tense that works about 95% of the time. The character relationships are excellent and believable, the banter is well-written, and the factions' mythology sets a great backdrop for the story.
Cradle of Sea and Soil is a coming-of-age story with a few twists set in a unique world that I wanted to love, but I only mostly liked. The story has two third-person POV characters: Colibrí and her son Narune, both “Halfborn” with island coyote ears and tail who are scorned by the island’s “Trueborn” humans. Despite their status, both of them are proud fighters and do battle against the Stillness, the deadly opposite of the Flows of Creation; and the halja, unnatural, hollow beasts that spawn from the Stillness. At the start of the novel, Narune is beginning to enter adulthood, and he wants to shake off the stereotypes that come with being Halfborn. Unfortunately, these stereotypes are rooted in tragic reality, and his dreams may be harder to achieve than he realizes.
Battle of the Linguist Mages has one of the most off-the-rails wild bonkers plots I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy novel, ever. First of all, it’s called Battle of the Linguist Mages, and it’s literally about mages who use linguistics to do battle. Features include an incredibly snarky protagonist named Isobel, who happens to be the best player in the world at the virtual reality game Sparkle Dungeon (secretly a method of training linguist mages), sentient alien punctuation marks that have formed symbiotic relationships in humans' brains, power morphemes, and more uses of the words “instantiate” and “ontological” than I expected to see in a fantasy novel, ever.