Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

The darkish cover shows the back of young woman where the pale skin of her shoulder and neck show against a green cloak

by Kristen B.

Princess Marra is kind of a princess in waiting, or maybe it’s more like cold storage. Her sisters, one after the other, have married the Prince of the Northern Kingdom, bringing as their dowry the control of the best deep water harbor and removing the threat of war. If the middle sister also dies in childbed, Marra appears next in line to be married. In the meantime, she’s content living at the convent of Our Lady of the Grackles, where she apprentices to Sister Apothecary and helps with midwifery.

It turns out that the prince, now king, is not so charming. Marra learns how he likes to hurt his wives when attending her sister’s premature labor. Upon digesting some hard realities, this third sister decides to save her older sibling and herself. Although, all she really has is a vague plan to remove some rotten royalty from the face of the earth. Quite honestly, I’d want to kill him, too.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher is the best kind of fairy tale. It has all the right characters and doesn’t feel the need to over-explain the deep and weird places inside the story. The novel begins with Marra performing her second impossible task – building a dog from bone and silver wire. Her first involved spinning yarn filled with nettles to make a cloak of owl-cloth, but the story opens as she is desperately trying to complete a canine skeleton in the mandated time. Our sheltered nun proves to be a wonderfully obstinate, straightforward young woman. She accomplishes two impossible tasks before the dust-wife (a witch who tends the dead) takes pity on her and gives her a jar filled with moonlight that Marra can immediately re-gift. The two women, young and old but both fiercely independent, set off on their journey.

What follows is a story that I will surely reread and put on my “keeper” shelf. The adventure begins in earnest at a creepily fantastical Goblin Market and continues, despite all odds or even common sense, to its exciting conclusion at the royal palace. At the hidden market and on the road, Marra makes trades that lead to the completion of her merry band: her now real-seeming Bonedog, a handsome and honorable woodcutter, a (mostly) good fairy godmother, and the dust-wife with her demon-possessed hen. Clearly, the author keeps chickens, because it’s a character in its own right!

Each has a role to play as the quest becomes ever more complicated. Not only does Kingfisher excel at the magical aspects, she also manages to insert enough mundane practicalities to keep the book grounded. The absurdity of every day matters, like eating and sleeping, informs the subversive humor that laces through the story. The slightly snarky observations serve to illustrate the misogyny present in so many classic stories. Here, at least, the youngest princess works to save her royal sister from dying young of the curse of having an abusive husband who holds all the advantages. I laughed, I cheered, and I wanted more.

This short novel manages to fit a lot of story into a surprisingly few pages. You can read it as a book or e-book.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball in season (but not all at the same time).

Trilogy and Beyond

Provided by Penguin Random House: a red background with white type, "Read the Entire Series" then the four covers in the series featuring illustration of the main characters and fantastical creatures.

by Monae R.

Kelley Armstrong, a Canadian writer born in 2001, completed a wonderful children’s series in June 2022. Originally an author for teens and adults, her Royal Guide to Monster Slaying series, illustrated by Xavière Daumarie, comes as a nice refreshment for children. The first book, A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying (followed by sequels The Gryphon’s Lair and The Serpent’s Fury) was a Black Eyed Susan 2021-2022 nominee. Despite its enticing and interactive story, it did not win the award. The series follows the story of a princess and her journey to become the Royal Monster Slayer of her Kingdom.

Rowan, a 13-year-old girl, is adamant to fight alongside her aunt in the battle to understand and drive the monsters of the kingdom back to the mountains. Her journey towards this encompasses loss, friendship, family, and excitement beyond belief. Rowan’s bloodline, that of clan Dacre, gives her a gift many cannot fathom and allows her to find friends in unusual places.

Many see Rowan as a young, incapable princess. Over time, they see the error of their ways as she fights to increase her knowledge and strength. Her journey takes her out of the kingdom and past the mountains, where many have not traveled before, where she encounters rare and extinct monsters and develops relationships with bordering clans.

This series is full of unexpected twists and turns. The characters are silly and relatable and the monsters are fascinating and frightening. As someone who is deeply in love with fantasy stories, I could not put these books down. I placed a hold on the fourth book, The Final Trial, as soon as it was on order here at the library.

I highly recommend this inclusive fantasy quick read.

Monae is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS East Columbia Branch.

The Kingston Cycle by C. L. Polk

Covers of the three books in the series: Witchmark in blue, Stormsong in deep purple, and Soulstar in reds and pink. Each features figures in black silhouette against colorful backgrounds.

by Kristen B.

Ursula LeGuin wrote a famous short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” about a utopian city with a catch. The peaceful and joyous life of the city’s citizens is made possible only through the absolute suffering of a single child. Everyone is made aware of the bargain as they reach adulthood, and those who can’t sanction it become those who walk away. In Witchmark (also available as an e-audiobook), author C. L. Polk answers LeGuin’s moral question more firmly: Those who can’t sanction a bad bargain are destined to unmake it.

Meet Miles, a war veteran who works as a psych doctor in a veterans hospital. The book begins with a dying man dumped, almost literally, into Miles’ arms. Our brave doctor has been tracking some worrisome patterns at the hospital, with traumatized veterans reporting a mysterious malaise, one that actively promotes domestic violence and mayhem. Miles sees the connection but can’t figure out why it’s happening or how to stop it. Side note: the role of newspapers in this series delights me!

Miles has turned his back on a wealthy but constrained life to use his healing talents. In Kingston, capital city of Aeland, the uppermost class possesses magic to control the weather, particularly the huge storms that threaten every winter. Other witches are considered dangerous to themselves and others, and they are institutionalized around the country. The author provides an antidote to all these troubles with a lovely romance blossoming between Miles and Tristan Hunter. Tristan has a rather unusual background that plays into solving both the initial murder and the other issues.

Polk continues to weave a Gordian knot of interrelated troubles, because the problems aren’t limited to a single world. There’s also the Solace, which exists parallel to Aeland, where souls go to reside after death. The Amaranthines rule there, an immortal race that serves as a sort of overarching moral conscience to the regular world, though one with real teeth. It turns out that they have noticed strange happenings during and after the recent war, and they are concerned because no Aelander souls have come into the Solace in decades. Therein hangs the rest of the story, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Witchmark sets the stage for the next two books, which are substantially more political in nature. Miles’ sister, heir to the family’s fortune and magic, becomes the main point of view for the second book, Stormsong (also in e-audiobook format). Grace has to balance the country’s needs against her own as her one true love also happens to be a star newspaper reporter. She must further balance her magical duties to protect Aeland from increasingly violent storms with her political position as Chancellor to a queen who has no desire to make necessary changes. A locked door political assassination only adds to her difficulties.

The third book, Soulstar, moves to yet another character, Robin, who has been part of the proceedings all along as a nurse and friend at Miles’ hospital and a key player in Grace’s political striving. She belongs to a minority and operates as a secret witch, whose talent lies in seeing and communicating with the dead. As the books progress, we see Aeland’s highly inequitable, stratified, royalist society change drastically. Revolution is the name of the game in this final book. Modern parallels are clear, but it’s still fun to root for the underdogs who want a seat at the table and their fair share of pie. Maybe what we need is a magical, immortal race to encourage us to live with compassion and sympathy for others.

All three books take place in Kingston, in which Polk gives us a deeply imagined, tangible city that seems as real as the wonderful, persistent people who live there. In each installment, you get a rousing story, a queer romance, and a hero who is trying to make the world a better place. Because if you can’t condone living in a society that excels only by requiring the suffering of some people, what does that require of you?

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).

The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix

The illustration shows a young man in blue holding a very small bell standing back-to-backwith a young wman in brown with knives drawn. A white cat sneaks along side them.

by Kristen B.

One of my favorite series debuted a long time ago with the publication of Sabriel in 1995, which introduced us to the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre – a magical world and a vaguely Victorian British country joined by mysterious means across a Wall. Author Garth Nix has written in this world off and on for almost 30 years. It’s not a huge series with a new book available annually, but it includes the first trilogy, a variety of short stories, a sequel, a side story about a secondary character, and now the newest installment of Terciel and Elinor.

Title character Sabriel is a young woman finishing her rather unusual education at Wyverly College, a boarding school in Ancelstierre close to the Wall. Her father is a powerful mage from the Old Kingdom, the Abhorsen – an inherited position responsible for making sure the dead remain dead. Death is presented as a river with many precincts that sweeps souls along to their final rest beyond the Ninth Gate. Unfortunately, in the Old Kingdom, the dead don’t always stay that way and necromancers try to increase their power by manipulating Death. It’s all wonderfully gothic and atmospheric (but not particularly scary) with appeal for teens and adults alike. Abhorsens battle the necromancers and Greater Dead with their magical bells and sword, with each bell sounding a specific command – like walking or sleeping.

Back in Ancelstierre, Sabriel receives a bandolier of bells and a sword and realizes that something has gone very wrong with her father. She travels into the Old Kingdom to discover that Bad Things are afoot. With the help of a lost prince and a talking cat who is much more than he seems, Sabriel must conquer an old nemesis and restore the Kingdom. The next two books move forward a generation, but they continue with fraught necessity the quest to defeat the ultimate evil and save the world. Honestly, what more could you ask for?!

Nix published Terciel and Elinor in 2021, and it tells the story of Sabriel’s parents, of how they met and fell in love. It explains so much of the background for the original series, while still giving us new characters to root for. Elinor is a delight as a neglected but independent daughter with a passion for stagecraft and a willingness to meet whatever comes her way with knives drawn. Terciel matches the orphan vibe with a sketchy background of his own, as he reluctantly accepts his future role as the Abhorsen. A competent ranger and taciturn current Abhorsen provide good counterpoints to the young (rather callow) and energetic main characters. I think this sort of immediate prequel is immensely difficult to do well precisely because we know the ending of the story, nonetheless this was an enjoyable read with high enough stakes to keep me turning pages well into the night.

You can start reading either with the newest book, or read in original publication order beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. For a real treat, listen to the audiobooks narrated by actor Tim Curry, whose dark voice perfectly suits a series that features the river of Death.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).

Penric & Desdemona novellas

Painting of a fair blond man with a long braid and a white shirt in a narrow boat in a canal; the setting looks a lot like Venice.

by Kristen B.

One of the delights of reading fantasy stories is the wide range of “what ifs” that authors cook up for our enjoyment. What if a hobbit went on an adventure and discovered a long-lost ring of power? What if a pack of werewolves lived in the Pacific Northwest? What if demonic possession was not an entirely dangerous or horrible affliction? Hold onto that last thought…

Lois McMaster Bujold, a long-time favorite author, always inflicts situations on her characters that stretch them to their utmost and confound them utterly. In one of her created universes, folks worship a pantheon of Five Gods – Father and Mother, Son and Daughter, and Bastard. The Bastard is the god of all things out of season and out of “sorts,” if you will. Demons are creatures of chaos belonging to the Bastard, and they can only exist in the “real world” if they inhabit a creature, usually some sort of wild animal. As one host dies, the demon jumps to the next closest creature, always looking to increase complexity of animal – eventually, sometimes, making it to a human.

Meet Desdemona, one of the oldest and most powerful demons. When she becomes invested in Penric kin Jurald, rather unexpectedly for both of them, she has the better part of 200 years of experience and brings an absolute wealth of knowledge with her. When Desdemona’s previous “rider” dies of heart failure, a great partnership is born between the old lady demon and her handsome new host. While Penric operates as the protagonist throughout the stories, Desdemona is my favorite. She provides ongoing pithy commentary in the vein of an older sister/aunt about the younger Penric’s decisions and passions. Honestly, Bujold’s way with wry commentary on humanity’s frailty and foibles is what keeps me coming back to her books.

Bujold has written more than ten novellas detailing the pair’s various adventures. They do seem to attract trouble as they sort out younger demons, practice spy-craft, fight pirates, court a wife for Penric, and solve plagues. In all the stories, the balance between performing useful magic and managing Desdemona’s chaotic outlets is variously hilarious and disturbing. The balance between politics and diplomacy and regular people’s daily lives provides depth and nuance.

So, have I tempted you? Here’s the bad news: the books were originally self-published electronically, but have since been produced in limited quantities and different formats. Here’s the good news: They are mostly stand-alone stories, so you don’t have to read them in any particular order. I do recommend starting with Penric’s Demon, where all the fun begins, but you don’t have to. After that, you can follow along with their adventures in Penric’s Fox, Masquerade in Lodi, The Physicians of Vilnoc, and all the many others.

If you get hooked like I am, other Maryland libraries carry the titles and collected anthologies (Penric’s Progress and Penric’s Travels) that we don’t and you can borrow them all via Interlibrary Loan/Marina. However you find them, I hope you find that a couple of the stories enchant and amuse you with such an interesting set of What Ifs.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, dance, and watch baseball (but not all at the same time).

Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

A young woman with long wavy dark hair, dressed in a denim jacket, looks backward over her shoulder. A bright yellow and orange phoenix is rising behind her against the night sky, and its tail wraps around her.

By Sahana C.

Consider this: every fairy tale you’ve ever heard is at least a little bit true. The Kingdom of Avalon is full of castles and magic, Alice really did travel all through Wonderland, and most of all – magic? Definitely real.  

But at the exact same time, Rin Chupeco manages to surprise readers with twists on each story. Avalon is frozen (literally and metaphorically!) outside of time, Alice was a warrior, and all that magic has rules and regulations in ways that seem to make sense when you look around at the modern world.  

The book opens in the Royal States, a monarchical version of the U.S., where everything is almost exactly the same as reality with the exceptions of a king and quite a bit more magic. The story even involves governmental agencies, with ICE taking on a prominent (and punny!) role throughout the course of the plot. 

The hero here is a young girl named Tala. She comes from an incredibly powerful legacy, with her family hailing from both the Philippines and Avalon. Her entire lineage is made up of magic, despite being convinced that she lives in the most boring town in the entire Royal States, and she’s been told that she’s fairly powerful, too. She’s hesitant to believe it, though, considering her powers are exclusively centered on disrupting magic.  

Her life changes in a big way when her family is called to protect the Crown Prince of Avalon, Alexei, who is the sole survivor of the royal family and has been in hiding for his whole life. Alexei’s dream is to revive his home country and take back his homeland by breaking the curse of the Ice Queen. In the meantime, though, he and Tala become fast friends, and he manages to enjoy a little bit of a normal high school, being sheltered by the Makiling clan, Tala’s super powerful family.  

When the Firebird, the symbol of Avalonian royalty, finally arrives, Tala and Alexei are thrown into a whirlwind adventure, accompanied by the children of Avalon’s best and brightest heroes. All of them have something to prove and they don’t always get along, but they do come together to save a country they’ve all loved and longed for from afar.  

You see, this whole book is a thinly veiled analogy for the immigrant experience and various facets therein. Tala’s whole family is Filipino, and she’s never been to the Philippines but longs to know more about her culture. Alexei had to leave Avalon as a child, forced out by war. The rest of the group that accompanies Tala and Alexei on their adventure also have varying levels of connection to Avalon: some have fond memories of childhood there, others have most of their family members stuck behind the border.  

Chupeco makes it clear, through Tala, that regardless of how connected to country she is, she can still fully claim her heritage. Tala is told by trusted adults time and time again that she belongs, and Chupeco makes it even more explicit when she writes, “Just because you’ve never been to the Philippines doesn’t mean that their rivers don’t course through your blood. It doesn’t mean you don’t have their mountains in your eyes. It’s not where we are, it’s who we are. You’ll always be both a Makiling and a Warnock, and always a Filipina. Never forget that.” 

I will say that some of the worldbuilding was a touch heavy-handed, and I had to go back and forth on the rules of magic and power in this universe Chupeco creates. Those moments could have benefited from a bit less, but they did not take away from the heart present in every chapter. First and foremost, this is a story about family, ones that are forged by blood and those that are found through friendship. For readers who are interested in YA fantasy, with an incredibly diverse and vibrant cast of characters who talk about the immigrant experience and recognize just how important food is as a bonding tool, this is the book for you.  

Wicked As You Wish is available in print and as an eBook from Libby/OverDrive.

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.

A Deadly Education

A black cover with gold text and a mysterious illustration of the phases of the moon, a mystical eyes, and spiral all centered above a book.

By Gabriela P.

Did you think your high school years were tough? Count yourself lucky that you could at least eat lunch without having monsters come at you. In Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education, Galadriel “El” Higgins goes to her classes, studies, and navigates her social sphere all while trying to stay alive. She attends the Scholomance, a school for magic, where there are no teachers, holidays, school events, or friendships. Attending students are suddenly thrown into this school located within a terrifying inter-dimensional void. With monsters, or “mals”, in every shadow and around every corner, the students have only one goal – to graduate, which means staying alive.

El is a junior at the Scholomance, and has a unique problem. While every other student has to figure out how to protect themselves from mals and students-gone-dark, she has to concentrate on not destroying everything she touches. A rather bothersome prophecy, something about her being the bringer of mass destruction, keeps her more preoccupied with making sure she doesn’t end up destroying the world than with making friends. Though in this school, friendships are usually strategic. When we are introduced to the snarky, anti-social El, she makes it clear that her only plan is to make it as close to graduation as she can without attracting unwanted attention to herself. Then, in her senior year, she plans to figure out how to impress students from well known magical enclaves to guarantee her and her mother’s safety during and after graduation. However, her not-so pleasant disposition means her chances are slim.

Orion Lake, a student from a major enclave with a major savior complex, is famous among the student body, mainly because he is pretty much responsible for the higher-than-normal survival rate of their junior class. When he saves El’s life once, then twice, the spotlight suddenly turns to her. Suddenly El has to figure out how to use the attention for her benefit, but ends up finding herself drawn into a much bigger problem. On top of all that, she finds herself stumbling upon the discovery that she might be…making friends.

A Deadly Education is a refreshing spin on well-known tropes; magic schools, I-hate-him-I-like-him, monsters with a taste for children – the usual. Naomi Novak skillfully builds a fantastical universe with dynamic characters that you can’t help but fall for. Darkly funny and terrifyingly captivating, this book is definitely one that you won’t put down until the end.

You can borrow A Deadly Education as a book, an eBook, and an eAudiobook.

A dark green cover with golden text and illustration of a keyhold with points and rays, and a dangling key.

The story continues (which you will want to do immediately) with The Last Graduate, and the third installment, The Golden Enclaves, is due this fall. The second book is also available as an eBook and an eAudiobook.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

An orange sun against a yellow background sits above ink drawing of bannermen on horses sitting on a hill behind their commander. A black banner flies from the upper right corner across the sun.

by Kristen B.

Do you believe in destiny? Can you inhabit someone else’s?

The main character of She Who Became the Sun spends the length of the book reflecting on these questions. Zhu Chongba “steals” her brother’s foretold fate of greatness and wrestles with what it means to be great. Little sister (never gets her own name) is the only member of her family to survive famine and bandits, and, as an act of desperate will, decides that her brother’s fortune is still Heaven-mandated and waiting to be claimed. So, she becomes him. Throughout the rest of the book, Zhu Chongba is her name even though her pronouns remain female. Sometimes, it was jarring because of how thoroughly Zhu Chongba lives that persona.

The newly claimed identity takes her to a monastery, where she gains an education and makes a lifelong friend in the rascal Xu Da. Eventually, the monastery falls to the politics of rebellion between the native southern Chinese and the ruling Mongolian dynasty, the Great Yuan. Zhu Chongba seizes every opportunity that comes her way and ends up as a general in the rebel Red Turban army. There’s more to it than that, but it’s rather breathtaking how quickly the story moves.

The Red Turbans claim the right to rule because they possess the Mandate of Heaven, in the person of a child prince. In this book, the Mandate of Heaven manifests as actual physical (colored but not hot) flame. The politics within the rebel government is cut-throat, almost literally, and Zhu Chongba has to negotiate through fraught situations without choosing (or appearing to choose) sides. As part of this, she befriends another woman caught up in court politics. Ma Xiuying (Yingzi) has a kind but clear-eyed perspective that Zhu Chongba comes to value.

On the other side of the equation, General Ouyang commands the Mongolian Prince of Henan’s forces. He is a rare eunuch and the only surviving member of his family, all of whom were killed for treachery. Instead of being killed, he was castrated and enslaved to the Prince of Henan’s oldest son, who ended up befriending Ouyang and promoting him through the army. However, Ouyang nurtures rage and revenge in his heart and has his own plans for destroying the family that executed his. The Henan province’s ruling family is beyond dysfunctional with an overbearing father, a people-pleasing heir, and an adopted son who spitefully refuses warrior ways to administer the family estates and fortune.

I don’t know how much of the Mongolian part of the story follows historical precedent, but it provides a fascinating counterweight to Zhu Chongba and her ambitions. Both Chongba and Ouyang grapple with their senses of self, internally and in relation to those around them. The continued nuanced exploration of gender identity and body perception only adds another layer of depth to the characters and the overall themes of the story. Destiny sometimes is very personal.

I ended up having to do a quick dive into Wikipedia to learn more about this historical era. This gender-bent, queer retelling adheres fairly closely to the basic outline of the founding of the Ming Dynasty, which spanned an almost 300 year timeline beginning in 1368. The Red Turban rebels fought successfully to bring down the Mongolian ruling class, which I suppose is not really a spoiler since it’s history. I love to think about this period of Chinese conquest and building corresponding to the beginning of European colonialism and the Renaissance. I wish we learned more about it in our schools.

Despite the galloping pace of this fantastical novel, I found myself putting the book down to make the experience last longer. Zhu Chongba’s sheer stubborn belief in a destiny of greatness does not allow for any other outcome, despite severe setbacks. It’s impossible to read the book and not share in that conviction.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and make soup in the winter.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown

A regal young Black woman with long braids stands in front of a patterned wallwith swaths of green fabric swirling around her.

by Eliana, teen volunteer at HCLS Savage Branch

In true Eliana fashion, I started to blitz through this title as an audiobook. I had to ask my librarian friend, Sarah, “Is it just me or are these characters just the most emotionally stunted dolts I have ever not actually come across?” I love them so much, they make me want to tear my hair out.

Along with the engaging characters, Roseanne A. Brown does an excellent job incorporating African culture into this novel, described on the book jacket as, “The first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.” The setting has quiet elements of West African culture, the furnishings, the clothes, the streets, even the characters’ hair.

My favorite part was the hair routine Karina’s maid does with her. Shea butter and the other oils along with twisting are, in fact, accurate to curly hair. It’s part of why I haven’t been braiding my hair so often. My curls look much lovelier when out of their braids. My family is Puerto Rican, and although Puerto Rico takes a fair amount of influence from African cultures, there are also Taino and Spanish influences there as well.

Back to the book: Karina has all the qualities of a good queen, she just needs time to heal and properly grieve her mother (the previous queen). Outside of the eyes of the courtiers, Karina is surrounded by the love of her family and friends, but she’s closed herself off from them. With the way Karina’s trajectory is headed, Karina may completely alienate everyone around her before something happens to shatter her worldview and push her into regaining allies. There is a notable difference between the Karina who does whatever she can to avoid hosting the Solstacia Festival and the Karina who fights tooth and nail to fulfill her duties as a new queen.

Karina is something of a tempest. For much of the novel, she is insecure, grieving, and constantly worried about whether she’s a good enough ruler. She *worries* about her fitness to lead and actively tries to remove the person she deems to be an unfit ruler (herself) from succession. Heck! The whole reason she even gets into reviving her deceased mother is that she believes her kingdom would be better with her mother’s leadership!

Her opposite in the story is Malik, a child who has seen the absolute worst humanity has to offer. His own family and village were horrible to him. The world sees him and his people as awful. And yet he cares. He cares *so much.* He worries about both of his sisters. He pays attention to the servants and even worries for Karina, a person who he is actively trying to kill, when he overhears how the court lambasts her for needing a day to recover from an attempt on her life.

I’m still listening to the book, so I wonder if there is a reason Malik’s people are oppressed like they are. I know that in the real world, oppression often has no tangible reason. In most fantasy media I have interacted with, the oppression is typically caused by some ancient bad-blood event. I appreciate the author’s sensitive and visceral depiction of anxiety and panic attacks, which didn’t trigger one of my own. I like that she included coping strategies. Somewhere out there, a reader will see Malik thinking of his lemon tree and adopt a similar strategy.

One last note to my friend Sarah: I feel like am a parent now. I want to wrap Malik and Karina up in my arms, tell them that everything is okay. I wanna whack them upside the head and ask them, “What were you thinking?!” (affectionately) Are you happy, Sarah? You have ruined me. Everyone should read this book.

Meet the author Roseanne Brown at HCLS Savage Branch (or attend online) on Tuesday, January 25 at 6 pm. Register here. Thirty attendees will be randomly selected to receive a free copy of A Song of Wraiths and Ruins. 

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

The cover shows a young Black woman looking to the left, dressed for the trail in a leather coat and a strap for a bag across her chest. She has a floral tattoo on the side of her neck.

by Kristen B.

The Good Luck Girls is a flat-out running adventure of escape and escapade, complete with undead monsters, bank robberies, and a secret rebel base. In the country of Arketta, good luck girls are sold to “welcome houses” as children, basically into indentured servitude where they start as housemaids until they graduate to serving customers more personally. The male patrons of welcome houses are called “brags” by the women who work there. This book is filled with so many smart details that make it real.

Favors are the magical tattoos that mark the girls’ throats and match their names, which cannot be removed or covered without dire consequences. The girls in this story will do almost anything to remove those favors and be free of the welcome house. Meet the girls:

Aster, the protector, is the big sister and the one who has gumption to say, “time to go, girls.”

Violet, the favorite and the survivor who may have regrets, also has the secret information to get everyone to safety.

Tansy, the herbalist and medic, is the heart of the bunch who keeps everyone pointed in the same direction.

Mallow, the fighter, meets life with fists up but learns the hard way how to pick which fights are worth having.

Clementine, the catalyst and Aster’s younger sister, has a catastrophic Lucky Night and becomes the reason this group of girls flees into the wilderness. She wants so much more from life than a Welcome House can offer.

After Clementine’s debut ends with a very important brag dead in her bed, the girls figure out how make an escape, heading North to freedom. The girls follow clues from the story of Lady Ghost passed from good luck girl to good luck girl, but no one knows the truth – although Violet claims to have special knowledge. They discover a male guide to take them through rough country, who brings all the usual complications. He is also looking for redemption and a new life, and makes the difference for surviving in the deep wilderness. The group learns to rely on and (maybe even a little bit) love each other like family.

There are some solid themes underlying all the fun, including gender and race issues. These young women demonstrate their abilities to do what’s necessary to achieve their goals, despite physical and emotional trauma. As they reclaim their identities and their independence, questions arise about who the law protects and serves and when a little rebellion is a good thing. Honestly, I rooted for the girls during their first bank heist … even if it’s a crime.

I gulped this book down over one weekend. I can’t wait to see what these girls do next as I am pretty sure that each one of them is entirely capable of making her own good luck.

The Good Luck Girls is available in traditional print, book on CD, and as an eBook.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.