General

Cover Reveal: GIVE WAY TO NIGHT

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So let’s talk about this cover!

You may be noticing that the lady on the cover is very not-blonde. Give Way to Night brings Vibia — prickly, focused, suspicious Vibia — into sharper focus. While Latona and Sempronius are still the primary POV characters, Vibia claims the next slot. Much of this book is from her perspective, and I so greatly enjoyed getting into her headspace as a counterpoint to Latona’s. They are polar opposites in personality, but they share common goals, and much of the story of Give Way to Night is in how they learn to work together to protect the people around them.

Artist Micah Epstein did wonderful work in bringing Vibia to life. She’s much sharper than Latona, and I think her personality really shines in her face. She’s standing in a threshold, a place of power for Fracture mages. In From Unseen Fire, Latona had to learn how to embrace the power she had always been afraid of, because she’d been told she had more than was appropriate. Vibia’s sort of fighting the opposite battle; she’s always considered that she only has a touch of divine blessing — but she’s also had to keep tight-reined control over it, because Fracture can so easily lead to chaos. In Give Way to Night, Vibia comes to realize she’s capable of more than she’d previously considered.

And about that Fracture magic… I’m so delighted that we were able to keep the crackled-fresco look that we had in From Unseen Fire, and I love the added detail of that light bleeding through. What might that prefigure? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out, won’t you?

Also, green is my favorite color, so on a purely childish level, I’m very happy to have a green book.

Give Way to Night releases November 10th! Pre-order now to return to Aven:

General

Announcement: Worldbuilding for Masochists!

I am so excited to announce that, starting this week, I am one of the regular co-hosts for the Worldbuilding for Masochists podcast!

I’ve been a guest on this podcast twice ere now, and I am absolutely delighted to be joining Marshall Ryan Maresca and Rowenna Miller on a regular basis. Twice-monthly, we’ll be exploring the bones of fantasy worlds — historical, cultural, geological, grammatical, all of the things a writer can use to give life and veracity to their world. We have some wonderful topics lined up for the show’s second season, and I cannot wait to delve into them with my fabulous co-hosts and some amazing guests.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve probably gleaned that this is the sort of stuff I absolutely live for. Sometimes I feel like I should’ve gone into RPG design, because I so adore exactly this sort of work. I’ve certainly done plenty of it for the Aven Cycle! (And members of my Patreon get to see that on a weekly basis, since all the microfiction I release draws from the paratextual material that doesn’t fit into the books). What I’ve loved about WfM as a listener, and what I can’t wait to probe more as a co-host, is the challenge to presumptions: really interrogating why things are the way they are, and not just taking our current lived reality or our perceptions of historical reality and lumping them into an invented world without due consideration. It’s already affected the way I’m thinking about my secondworld WIPs, and I’m eager to keep pushing myself to think harder and deeper about the constructs I’m creating.

So! Whether you’re a writer looking for some prompts to help you flesh out your world or a reader hungry for insights into how we wild authorial folk do the things we do, hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcast platform!

Bits of Fun, General

A World of Figures Series: The Rhetoric of Memes

So y’all know how much I love rhetoric. I’ve decided to come back to the World of Figures series, which I’d sort of abandoned in favor of the Hamilblog on Patreon, so that I can explore some rhetorical concepts in more depth.

All memes work because of repetition. That’s their very nature. Memes can also be seen as a type of metonymy, a type of metaphor in which a symbolic token stands in for a person, place, or idea. Think of a crown representing the power of monarchy, or the ways that emoji represent your mood or your response to something.

A simple example of metonymy in memeage would be the use of popular reaction gifs in many situations. It’s a repeated image that takes on cultural context of its own over time. If it achieves great enough saturation, you don’t even need to include the image itself to reap its benefits. Say there’s some drama going down on twitter. I could insert an image as a reply — or, I could type “[MichaelJacksonpopcorn.gif]” — and a meme-literate audience will know exactly what I mean. It works because of repetition — an image that has been seen enough times by enough people to be recognized even without the image itself — and it works because the image stands in for the idea “I am vicariously enjoying this while staying out of the mess”. That’s the metonymy.

Other popcorn gifs carry slightly different connotations — different exercises of metonymy. [DuleHillpopcorn.gif] is a little more active, implying a more engaged spectator, its connotation less petty but perhaps more visceral; [gazellepopcorn.gif] is by contrast a bit more passive, implying a spectator at a greater state of remove from the drama. [popcorn.gif] on its own might invoke any of these, inviting the reader to draw their own particular out of the abstract.

(Okay, if you aren’t familiar with those gifs, I bestow them upon you now.)

MichaelJacksonpopcorn.gif

DuleHillpopcorn.gif

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Many memes, however, flourish not through repetition alone, but through the transmutation of the original material. This phenomenon often occurs in what Know Your Meme calls “Object Labeling” memes, where words are imposed on an image to make a point.

I would argue that these memes become a form of antanaclasis. In verbal rhetoric, antanaclasis is the repetition of a word with a different meaning in the second usage. An example from 2 Henry IV‘s Falstaff: “O, give me the spare men and spare me the great ones.” In the first case, “spare” means “extra”; in the second, “save me from” or “let me do without”. Our brains appreciate that the shape and sound of the word is the same, but its underlying meaning has changed. Similarly, in the visual rhetoric of memes, there are instances where the shape of the meme is the same — the basic format, the image, and so forth — but the details create a different meaning grounded in the same context.

Some memes also function, in and of themselves, on a rhetorical basis. That is, they work on our brains in the same way that a particular rhetorical figure does. Take “Distracted Boyfriend“:

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The meme usually works by imposing something you should be giving your time/attention onto Blue Shirt and the distraction/temptation onto Red Shirt, like so:

distracted-boyfriend-books

This meme works on the basis of hysteron proteron: the disorder of time, when what should be first comes last. In this meme, it works like this: For those of us in cultures which traditionally read left-to-right, we tend to first register the words imposed on Red Shirt first, then on Boyfriend, then on Blue Shirt. (Font choices and positioning can alter this somewhat; sometimes it’s easier to notice Boyfriend first, but if our brains are used to reading left-to-right, they’re still going to try to go to Red Shirt). This is something of a temporal inversion. Logically, the first thing of relevance is Blue Shirt. That is the status quo, the origin point, the reference. Neither Boyfriend nor Red Shirt have any relevance without it. And yet it’s the last thing we see! Our brains work in reverse — and that’s part of why it’s funny. It also enhances the visuals: in finding out Blue Shirt’s importance last, we also get to share/appreciate the expression on the model’s face.

Consider this reversal, which (I suspect unawares) calls out the nature of the rhetorical form — and isn’t as funny!

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There’s no surprise there! It makes logical sense and progresses, but our brains don’t get to enjoy the inversion of expectations. The meme relies (at least in part) upon the Incongruity Theory of humor: something that rubs contrary to our expectations and established mental patterns is more likely to be funny. Cicero talks about this in On the Orator: “The most common kind of joke is that in which we expect one thing and another is said; here our own disappointed expectation makes us laugh.” (For more on that topic and humor in general, I’m going to shout out my W&M professor John Morreall, whose scholarship I still think about all the time in so many contexts).

Now, this meme also allows me to offer an example of another type of visual rhetoric: when the composition of the meme is re-created but with different figures.

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Appreciating this one takes a little Star Wars context: “Red Shirt” becomes Princess Leia, “Boyfriend” is Han Solo, and “Blue Shirt” is Qi’Ra, whom we learn in Solo was his first love. The cosplayers have taken the meme in a different direction, altering the image rather than imposing new text. It feels, to me, like a visual kind of isocolon, parallel structure. In written language, that’s the repetition of syntax. Take Brutus in 3.2 of Julius Caesar: “As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.” But in memeage, the pattern is visual rather than verbal.

I feel like this topic, the visual rhetoric of memes, could be a whole interdisciplinary dissertation. I’ve found myself thinking about it more and more, and since memes don’t appear to be going anywhere, it’s likely well-worth the study on the similarities and differences of their effect on our brains as visual language.

Or, I’m just This Much of a dork. 😉

Want more rhetorical goodness? Or want to be the first to see these posts before they hit the blog? Join my Patreon at the Patricians+ level to make sure you don’t miss out on anything!

Bits of Fun, Images and Artwork

Word Cloud: Give Way to Night

Now that I’ve handed in copy edits, Give Way to Night is… pretty much done and dusted! The only thing left will be page proofs, and really all I can change there will be minor typos. This is, as you might imagine, simultaneously extremely gratifying and sort of terrifying. Letting go of a book can be a hard step for an author, because it requires a lot of faith in oneself. For a book I’ve been wrangling with as long as this one (thanks, Curse of Book Two), it’s especially difficult. But I have to remember: I have written the book I wanted to write. That has to be enough. Time to let it go and focus on the next one.

It being done, though, means it’s time for a new word cloud! I don’t think it’s wildly dissimilar from the last version, but there might be a few minor variations in which words are more prominent.

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Have any thoughts on this word cloud? Anything about it make you excited? Or scared? ;D Let me know!

General

Hearing Voices (In a Good Way)

This article from The Guardian crossed my eyes the other day: A survey of authors reported that 63% said they could “hear” their characters talking, and 61% felt their characters had their own agency (although what, precisely, that means has a lot of variance).

“I hear them in my mind. They have distinct voice patterns and tones, and I can make them carry on conversations with each other in which I can always tell who is ‘talking’,” said one anonymous writer. “They sometimes tell me that what I have in mind for them isn’t right – that they would never behave or speak that way. I don’t usually answer back,” said another.

It links to something I read a few months ago that fascinated me — the idea that some people have no inner voice. No internal monologue? No ability to narrate everything you do? I literally can’t imagine it. My brain often has more than one audio channel running at the same time. I wonder if those people are better at meditation and yoga, because I’ve often thought the reason I’m so bad at them is because my brain is utterly incapable of being quiet. The internal monologue never ceases.

I am absolutely one of those who can hear my characters. Some have stronger voices than others — usually the characters who popped up without my having to craft them. If I’ve needed to build a character to fill a specific story need, the voice often isn’t quite as strong. But the ones who come naturally, those are the characters whose voices come through loud and clear.

In the Aven Cycle, it’s Aula who first occurs to me when I think about this. From the very beginning, her voice was so strong: I can hear its tone, its cadence, its tics and quirks. I almost never have to wonder about the words I write for her; the dialogue flows entirely naturally. Latona takes a little more finesse — not least because she is more likely to weigh her words and decide what she can or can’t say based on who she’s talking to, whereas Aula has fewer filters. Alhena, though, shy and reticent, has even more. I can also “see” most characters, as the article mentions — how they move, what their gestures are, how they interact with the environment. I’ve wondered how much of this is due to theatrical experience. I’m always thinking of what the “stage business” would be. All of these things add up to more than the sum of their parts: they help inform a reader about who the character is, what’s important to them, how they process the world.

I don’t experience what some of the authors in the article say, though, in terms of a character “talking back”. They don’t address me. They aren’t aware they’re being written; they exist in their world, and it’s one I can manipulate. When something feels off and isn’t working, it’s because I haven’t fit the pieces together properly. I operate more like what Val McDermid describes:

“I do not think they act independently,” McDermid said. “They have the life I give them and no more. … I don’t think I’m possessed by the characters; I just think my subconscious is good at processing data.”

I love that idea, because it ties in to what the article says about how people interact with each other in real life: our brains are constantly trying to make predictions, and they update their predictions based on newly-input data, all the time. Some writers’ brains, it seems, do the same thing, just with the people we’ve invented. Our brains collate and process that data, and just like we can tell if a well-known friend or family member is behaving oddly, we can tell if something isn’t working for a character when we play out an imaginary scenario for them.

This is yet another place where fanfic can be, truly, such amazing training for a writer — because what we’re talking about, really, when we talk about a character having their own agency or “talking back” or “refusing” to do something — is the idea of being OOC: Out Of Character.

With fanfic, when you’re writing established characters, you’ve got existing data to rely on: the characters’ words and actions in canon. If you’re writing fanfic for a movie or TV series, you get the added bonus of the actor’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms. Your brain can process all of that data much like it would a real person. It makes it much simpler to test the dialogue and actions you write against “what they would really do”. There’s a sort of answer key you can check your work against. It operates on a lot of levels — choices they make, actions, love interests, all sorts of things. But in terms of “hearing a character’s voice”, specifically, canon provides a basis for dialogue (or internal monologues) in fanfic. If you write something that goes against the grain of established vocal patterns, it’s going to feel wrong.

(That wrongness can also be used within canon for comedic effect: One of my favorite things in the MCU is any time Loki impersonates someone, because you get this wonderful tangle of another actor pretending to be Tom Hiddleston pretending to be Loki pretending to be someone else. Or in Harry Potter, there was the great joy of watching Helena Bonham Carter play Emma Watson’s Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix. Body-swapping scenes like that present a challenge for both writer and actor, but when done well, they are so good — I suspect in large part because of the mental jungle gym they give our brains to exercise on. And oftentimes the real actor for the character will play out the scene in rehearsal for the other actor’s benefit, giving them something to check against in much the same way that canon gives fanfic that mark).

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Picking apart why dialogue feels OOC is great training for a writer, because that drills down into the nitty-gritty of how words work and why. What about these words is wrong? Is it about word choice — words that are either too complex or too simple for a character, or slang they would or wouldn’t use? Are you using too many filler words and verbal pauses (um, ah, look, well, etc), or not enough, or the wrong type? Is it the cadence — are the thoughts too long or too short, do they rise and fall in the wrong places? Is it more emotionally-based — something a character wouldn’t admit out loud, or at least wouldn’t in these circumstances? Is it too blunt, or too circumspect? How about the tone — is it too snarky, too earnest, too casual, too formal? Would this character use profane language or minced oaths? Do they think before they speak, weighing their words carefully, or do they speak without a filter?

And then, if you’re the sort of writer inclined towards original work as well as fanfic, you can apply these lessons even when you don’t have a canon outside of your own brain to check against.

In From Unseen Fire, I remember a scene that changed from a conversation between Latona and Rubellia to one between Latona and Aula. The information conveyed was the same, but I had to tweak the dialogue in a big way, because Rubellia’s speech patterns are not the same as Aula’s. Because I’ve spent so much time thinking about how words work (and rhetoric plays a big role in this), I can break that general sense of wrongness down further into granular parts: Aula uses more parentheticals, more terms of address; her flow is both faster and choppier, while Rubellia’s is more evenly-paced, with longer thoughts; Aula exclaims, while Rubellia does not. I had a similar experience working on Give Way to Night, in a group scene that involves all three Vitelliae, Rubellia, and Vibia. The original version of the scene was missing Rubellia and Alhena; adding them in changed the balance of conversation. I had to think more critically about who would say what when, who conveyed which information, and what words they used to do so. Alhena offers information more timidly than the others in the room; Vibia doesn’t waste words by cushioning what she says with platitudes or endearments. Small details, but they’re what can really sell a character — and help a reader to understand them, without having to spell every aspect of their personality out in the narration.

How about you? Are you someone who hears voices when you’re writing or reading? Does your brain process interpersonal data that way?

General

Give Way to Night Pub Date and Buy Links!

GWtN-Promo

Big news! And it’s gone live on Goodreads and the buy links, so I am as safe as I can be in announcing that Give Way to Night: Book Two of the Aven Cycle will be released on November 10th, 2020!

This is all gods willing and the creek don’t rise, of course; the pandemic is already leading to a lot of shake-ups in spring and summer releases. It’s far too early to know if it will affect the fall — but right now, this is the plan!

Where to pre-order:

Pre-orders are hugely important for authors, because they tell the sales people how much interest there is in a book, how many to order, what kind of placement to give it — and that can, in turn, affect publishers’ interest in an author’s next books. So give future!you a treat and make sure you’ll have Give Way to Night on its release day!

Bits of Fun

I Want to Send You Mail

20171014_203531041_iOS (2)In case you haven’t heard, the USPS is in trouble. This is bad for everyone. The USPS is the only service willing to deliver to rural areas without charging exorbitant rates. Private services like UPS and FedEx frequently rely on USPS to handle their actual deliveries. Mail carriers are vital parts of the community. The postal service is literally in the Constitution, that’s how important it is. But we’ve got a maniac in charge of the government who has somehow reasoned that cruise ships are more essential to our society’s functioning than mail and who has threatened to veto — yes, veto — any pandemic spending bill that gives money to keep the postal service viable.

The USPS operates entirely off of sales. It doesn’t get public funding, which is absolutely wild to me. (That change happened in the 1980s; thanks, Reagan). So if you had “citizenry has to step up to save the post office” on your 2020 bingo card, time to mark that one off. Buying stamps is a super-easy way to help them keep revenue up. You can even get them online and they’ll be dropped off in your mailbox!

As it happens, I realized I’ve got a huge stack of From Unseen Fire promo postcards which were intended for spring and summer cons. So I’m going to do my part to help the USPS by buying a big ol’ roll of postcard stamps and sending these puppies out!

Want one? Just let me know where to find you! I’m going to attempt to embed a form below, but in the event that doesn’t work (I’ve heard that Google Forms often have trouble with mobile embedding, particularly), here’s the direct link.

This roll has 100 stamps on it, so I’ll guarantee a postcard to the first 100 people. Past that, we’ll see about getting a second roll. 😉

Bits of Fun

Reading Recs for Women’s History Month — 2020 Expansion!

Five years ago, I put together a rec list for Women’s History Month. I’ve read a lot of books since then! So I thought I’d expand the list with some newer titles (or new-to-me titles) featuring amazing women from history.

As in 2015, inclusion on this list doesn’t mean the book is perfect or 100% historically accurate. It just means I enjoyed the read, and I think other folk might, too! For the purposes of this list, I’m focusing just on books with real historical figures as characters. I’ve read a ton of other books featuring invented female characters inside real historical context, though, and I might make another list with those, because so many of them are just so good.

Fiction

  • 48355011The First Actress, by C. W. Gortner: I would subtitle this book “The Rise of Sarah Bernhardt”, as it mostly follows the early life of the Divine Sarah. It’s a rich exploration of the formation of one of the modern world’s first celebrities. Much attention is paid to her family and their echoing influence on her life. I don’t know enough about Bernhardt to know how much of that is historically verified and how much was authorial invention, but I could certainly believe it all within the context of fiction, and it makes for a compelling character study.
  • The Borgia Confessions, by Alyssa Palombo: A dark spiral into one of the Renaissance’s most fascinating and infamous families. While the main female character is Palombo’s invention, we see enough of women like Lucrezia and Vanozza that I feel solid including it on this list. Palombo also faithfully re-creates the world of Renaissance Rome in all its spectacle and decadence.
  • 44059557._SY475_The Magnolia Swordby Sherry Thomas: I’m including this one even though Mulan is more of a legend than a historical figure, because this retelling is so rooted in the history of 5th-century China. This YA novel centers not only Mulan, but other women she encounters on her journey, plus it has some really spectacular fight scenes, all rendered in Thomas’s typically wonderful writing.
  • Ribbons of Scarlet, by Kate Quinn, Sophie Perinot, Laura Kamoie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, and Heather Webb: This ambitious multi-authored project tracks six women across the French Revolution’s various phases, showcasing a variety of political opinions and socioeconomic realities. I really appreciated how the authors gave each heroine her own voice. Sophie de Grouchy and Charlotte Corday’s sections were probably my favorites, but each section of the book invests you in its characters and their trials navigating a period of upheaval and danger.
  • Glass Town Game, by Catherynne Valente: This book really is a fantasy, but I’m including it on this list anyway, because the heroines are the Brontë sisters as children! Who get transplanted, along with their brother, into a strange world derived from their games and imaginings. Somewhere between Wonderland, Narnia, and Fairyland, you’ll find Glass Town. This is a middle-grade novel, but I can highly recommend this flight of fancy for readers of all ages.
  • 46138193The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: A deep dive into a witch trial I had no idea existed, in 1620s Norway. This book is bleak and moody but absolutely enthralling, exploring the poisoned psyche and power dynamics in an isolated Arctic town. (FWIW, I’ve seen it positioned as a fantasy novel in a few places, but I would definitely place it firmly on the historical side of the fence. The narrative never really suggests that the folk magic some of the women get attacked for has actual magical force in the way you’d expect from a fantasy novel).
  • Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood: I read this after watching the miniseries, and only then realized that it was based on real historical events. Grace Marks, aged 16, was arrested in 1843 for the murder of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. The trial was sensationalized, and it was never quite clear how culpable Grace was — but it makes for a gripping read, and the book unfolds in a way that unsettles the reader’s brain.

Non-Fiction

  • 36525023._SY475_Women & Power: A Manifesto, by Mary Beard: Look, Mary Beard is just awesome. This tract is a trumpet calling out the deeply ingrained misogyny of our world, in history and in the modern day. I’d love to read a deeper dive from her on the same topic.
  • Domina: The Women Who Made Imperial Rome, by Guy de la Bédoyère: I had some issues with this book taking Tacitus a little much at face value, but overall, it’s a solid exploration of the women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty — who are the only reason, Bédoyère frequently reminds us, that the dynasty existed at all. Particularly great is the examination of Roman feminine virtues and the way in which transgression could lead to both power and punishment.
  • Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin: I don’t read a lot of biographies, but I enjoyed this one. It goes into incredible detail about Jane Austen’s life and the world she was living in, lending color and context to her books. I only had a sketchy outline of her bio prior to reading this book, and mostly her early life at that (which, okay, I mostly got from watching Becoming Jane); this filled in a lot of those gaps.

And here are a few historical books on my TBR!

  • 40993442Bakhita, by Véronique Olmi
  • Queens of the Conquest, by Alison Weir
  • Agrippina: Empress, Exile, Hustler, Whore, by Emma Southon
  • The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women: A Social History, by Elizabeth Norton
  • My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
  • Alison Weir’s Tudor Queens series
General

Aven Cycle Book Two Title!

Book Two officially has a title! I’m delighted to announce that Latona, Sempronius, Vibia, Neitin, Aula, and all the rest will be back in…

Give Way to Night

I’m really pleased with it. Unlike From Unseen Fire, where it took ages to arrive at something that made everyone happy, this had immediate unanimity. It was on my list of ideas, and it was the favorite pick of both my agent and editor. It’s poetic, it reflects the darkening world of the second book, and it reaches out a bit in theme to Sempronius and Vibia.

Because I truly am useless with titles, I did steal this one (with sight grammatical adaptation) from Latin poetry as well. Where From Unseen Fire comes from Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, this is a phrase out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

“It would take too long to tell what wickedness I found everywhere. Those rumours were even milder than the truth. I had crossed Maenala, those mountains bristling with wild beasts’ lairs, Cyllene, and the pinewoods of chill Lycaeus. Then, as the last shadows gave way to night, I entered the inhospitable house of the Arcadian king.”

The context has no relevance, really, but I do like the sense of descending into eerie darkness that the passage has. Although, now that I think of it, the pinewoods and the house might both be seen as hints to the action… but, I say too much. 😉

Bits of Fun

Book Recommendations 2019

Io Saturnalia, friends!

As the holiday season is upon us, I hope you’re having a lovely time, whatever and however you celebrate. And if you’re still looking for some gifts, allow me to recommend some books!

Everything on this list is something I read this year, which doesn’t necessarily mean it was published this year. I did read a lot of new things; I also did a lot of whittling down the TBR and catching-up on things I’d somehow missed. I read 116 books this year (so far! Still a couple of weeks left, after all) and enjoyed most of them! But in the interests of a somewhat-concise list, here are ten that I could most easily imagine a hypothetical ideal reader for:

9780735210936Because Internet, by Gretchen McCulloch
Buy it for: Whoever you know that’s addicted to the most social media platforms or that family member who still asks if you’re on the Google
Because Internet is an absolutely fascinating study at the language of the internet and how it has evolved over the past few decades. McCulloch dissects the informal written communication that has really only developed with the internet, how we learn it, how people of different ages and online entry points learn it differently, and how it keeps changing. I have flung this book at so many people.

9781524796280Fire & Blood, by George R R Martin
Buy it for: That friend who was losing her gd mind during the Game of Thrones final season
Fire & Blood will not be a five-star read for everyone, but if you’ve got a friend who seems to have encyclopedic knowledge of fictional universes, then this book will be a five-star for her as it was for me. This in-universe history of House Targaryen is wonderfully involved, but also a tongue-in-cheek examination of historiography and textual transmission. It’s a deep dive and perfect for the hyperfixation-prone geek in your life. I loved it so much I actually consumed it twice this year, once in print and once in audio.

9780756410261The Thorn of Dentonhill, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Buy it for: Someone who loved Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
The Thorn of Dentonhill is the first in a truly epic series, though each book is a self-contained adventure. Overall, Maresca has written an astonishing twelve novels in the Maradaine saga, ten of which are currently out, following four different groups of citizens of Maradaine whose stories interweave with each other. (You could start with the first book in one of the other sub-series, but I read them in chronology of release). Maradaine is not so absurd a place as Ankh-Morpork, nor as overtly allegorical, but the stories share a street-level view of a complex fantasy realm. Our heroes often tack along different moral, ethical, and practical lines from each other, but all are sympathetic, compelling, and fascinating.

9781440348389Damn Fine Story, by Chuck Wendig
Buy it for: Your friend who spent November in a NaNoWriMo frenzy
Damn Fine Story is a great dissection of the craft of writing, composed with Wendig’s particular brand of incisive irreverence. I tend to be picky about craft books, because it’s so hard to find one with a tone I don’t find abrasive to my own sensibilities, but this one was a treat. It provides some basic storybuilding terminology, but it also breaks down a lot of the why stories work and how to use what you enjoy about the stories you love, as a consumer of fiction, to build compelling narratives as a writer.

9781683690436Geekerella, by Ashley Poston
Buy it for: A hopeless romantic who goes to nerd conventions like Dragon*Con or NYCC
Geekerella and its sequel, The Princess and the Fangirl, are just charming as all-get-out. These are YA romances built around the conceit of a Star Trek-esque show’s reboot and the subsequent fan fallout. The fairy-tale strains are clever without weighing down the stories, and the easter eggs for geeks are an absolute delight. These books are fresh, witty, and have so much heart. I found myself squealing out loud with pure joy at so many points in each one — and talking out loud to the characters, as though they could hear my advice.

9780062916075Ribbons of Scarlet, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb
Buy it for: A virtuous citoyenne or readers who you often see with those historical novels where there’s a woman in period dress looking over a cityscape on the cover
Ribbons of Scarlet is the story of the French Revolution told through some of its women, and told by a collection of wonderful historical fiction authors. It offers a complex view, featuring women from all strata of society and all kinds of political opinions. You also see some of those opinions shift over time: under the pressures of the Revolution, some women become more radical, and some less.

9780062691316We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Buy it for: A reader who loved The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale
We Set the Dark on Fire is an absolutely gorgeously imagined dystopian tale set in a Latinx-flavored secondworld. The power negotiations in this book are intricate, layered, and dangerous. The world Mejia builds is intriguing and has curious mythological underpinnings. I absolutely love the twist that Mejia puts on the traditional YA dystopian love triangle; that alone would make the book worth reading. The heroine’s voice is also so strong and exciting.

9781984831927House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A. Craig
Buy it for: A reader who loves fairy tales
House of Salt and Sorrows is one of the most absorbing books I read all year. It’s a gothic mystery, a mythological epic, and an atmospheric fairy tale all wrapped up into one tale designed to consume a reader’s imagination. It goes to some seriously dark places, which took me by surprise and which I appreciated. Based very loosely on The 12 Dancing Princesses, this is a book to get lost in, and it would be particularly good to curl up with in the deep chill of winter.

51pcMG05OnL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Great Goddesses, by Nikita Gill
Buy it for: A strident feminist still searching for beauty in a rough world
Great Goddesses is a stunning poetry collection — and I say this as someone who is not always a fan of poetry. Gill explores the women of Greek mythology, from the primordial forces of night and chaos to the titanesses and goddesses with incredible powers to the mortal women damaged by the gods’ designs. Each one is an indictment of patriarchy; many have a particularly vicious-glorious energy that I really enjoyed. It’s not always an easy read, since so many stories cut straight through heart and mind down to ichor and bone, but it’s cathartic and gorgeous.

9780062931795The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, by Olivia Waite
Buy it for: A romance novel reader with a sense of adventure or someone who liked Gentleman Jack but wants something a bit softer
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is queer historical romance! Yes, thank you, more of this, please! It hits all the standard beats that a romance novel should, so you get that comfy and familiar feeling while reading it. It just happens to feature a f/f pairing. Both ladies are charming and interesting characters, and the focus on science within the story is also refreshing. I was reminded a lot of Courtney Milan’s and Lisa Kleypas’s books while reading this one.

So those are some focused recommendations! I encourage you to look for them at a local independent bookstore, if you can.

Other things I really enjoyed this year:

  • The Tethered Mage and sequels, Melissa Caruso
  • The Perfect Assassin and The Impossible Contract, K. A. Doore
  • Wanderers, Chuck Wendig
  • Lost Stars, Claudia Gray
  • The Temeraire series, Naomi Novik
  • Space Opera, Catherynne Valente
  • The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, H. G. Parry
  • Rage, Cora Carmack
  • City of Brass, S. A. Chakraborty
  • The Magnolia Sword, Sherry Thomas
  • Fray, Rowenna Miller
  • Hello Stranger, Lisa Kleypas
  • Rebel Rising, Beth Revis
  • Enchantee, Gita Trelease
  • The Everlasting Rose, Dhonielle Clayton
  • The Borgia Confessions, Alyssa Palombo (forthcoming in 2020)
  • The Body in the Garden, Katharine Schellman (forthcoming in 2020!)