Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors
Author: Curtis Craddock
Summary: Born with a physical disability, no magical talent, and a precocious intellect, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs has lived her life being underestimated by her family and her kingdom. All shall change, however, when an unlikely marriage proposal is offered, to the second son of a dying king in an empire collapsing into civil war. But the last two women betrothed to this prince were murdered, and a sorcerer-assassin is bent on making Isabelle the third. Isabelle and Jean-Claude, the fatherly musketeer who has guarded her since birth, plunge into a great maze of prophecy, intrigue, and betrayal, where everyone wears masks of glamour and lies. Step by dangerous step, Isabelle must unravel the lies of her enemies and discovers a truth more perilous than any deception.
Gush Sesh: If, like me, you feel that language is magical, you will appreciate the details of this fantasy. The author wields language like a fine sushi knife (a yanagiba, to be precise), creating art from words. It offers the most excellent vocabulary I’ve found in one title alone. It’s an exciting political steampunky romp of feminism found in a patriarchal world of invention and magic. I particularly enjoyed the audiobook as the narrator, Erin Bennett, is extremely good at differentiation between characters without sounding comical.
Author: Daniel O’Malley
Summary: Myfanwy (pronounced like Tiffany) Thomas awakens in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, she must trust the instructions left by her former self in order to survive. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization, and this person wants her dead. Suspenseful and hilarious, The Rook is an outrageously imaginative thriller for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.
Gush Sesh: This mystery is one unraveled with glorious detail and feeds the reader both clues and suspicion like greatly appreciated treats. It is a lark of entertainment and a terrifying observation on “the self”. What are we without our memories? If I were prepared ahead of time, would I be capable of informing my future self about my past once I lost my memories? Another great audiobook experience.
Wild Cards (#1)
Author: Various (edit. by G R R Martin)
Summary: An alternate world history since WWII with superpowers (and aliens) – a history in which a bioweapon/virus endows a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces―those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers―cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity; plenty used their powers for evil or selfish gain. How will the world turn out after a few decades of this immense power extreme and ever-changing social structure?
Gush Sesh: Think of this as a tabletop role-playing game run by George R R Martin for his friends – after they got started having regular fun with superpowers and intrigue, they decided to write their character stories down and compile them into what is now the Wild Card universe. This was my first experience reading from a group writing project as edited by the man that ‘ran the game’ in a years-long superheroic fantasy role-playing campaign. This introductory story is not the best of the many works that follow in the series, but it is necessary (nay, vital!) for establishing the world and its altered history. It is timing and flavor and reason and the ultimate origin story.
Author: Michael Grant
Summary: A small coastal CA town with nearby nuclear plant suffers strangeness – that’s the easiest explanation. What’s the original cause of it all and how will those left behind survive? Consider that the adults disappear, all of them – anyone over 15 years of age. Then add the occasional superpower, both beneficial and freakish. And remember, these are all kids becoming teens – ambition, confusion, and uncontrolled changes make this a volatile situation stuck under a 20 mile diameter dome.
Gush Sesh: This is a young adult novel on par with Wild Cards (#1), but with more likeable characters. Think Lord of the Flies (WGolding) or Under the Dome (SKing), but with some amount of kindness and humanity added. BTW, being first of a series, be prepared to order up number 2 immediately, Hunger. I reread this series from front to end about every year, always coming up with new interpretations and impressions of the characters.
Author: Gail Carriger
Summary: Amid supernatural-laden steampunk Victoriana, what can become of a respectable but unmarriageable spinster whose very touch exorcises both vampiric and werewolf states? And where did this starving unregistered vampire come from before he attacked Alexia Tarabotti at the dance? Why is everyone seemingly after her for answers, attention, or company? When will she realize her interest in Lord Maccon might be more than merely physical? And why does her best friend Ivy insist on the most outrageous of hats?
Gush Sesh: This may be my favorite book in the world – not claiming it to have won any prizes, but it is endearing and fun. I fell in love with the characters and their individual personalities before their relationships were fully established in this series. The language and description used is musical and colorful (and italicized in some cases). If you want to stop at the end of this lone book, you can, but there is much more to be had from the Parasol Protectorate if you continue in the series. Soulless is also available as a three-part manga!