Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

“We suppose she is dead, though none of us can be sure. She is not here, though she is not there, either, so far as anyone can tell. What transpired that awful autumn on those far Venusian shores? What happened to her? Did she share the horrid fate of the ruined village, the very one she sought to uncover and explain? We cannot know. We know only that we will see her no more, and that, my loyal readers, must break every heart in two.”

Severin is the adored only daughter of the famous movie director Percival Unck, who has inherited his love film. It’s the early 20th Century Jazz Age, the golden age of moviemaking, but whereas her father’s style is to tell stories with artifice and melodrama, Severin prefers a pared-back, literal style of documentary. But this story is set in an alternate solar system where all the planets are inhabited and full of strange fauna, Hollywood is based on the moon, and diving colony on Venus has just disappeared in a cataclysmic event. Severin sets out with her crew to make a documentary about it, and never returns.

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

A late entry but The Power has shot into the top spot in my favourite books of the year.

thepowerWow! What a treat! I’ve been flicking through the pages and can’t wait to dive in. I see you’ve included some scenes with male soldiers, male police officers and ‘boy crime gangs’, just as you said you would, you saucy boy! I don’t have to tell you how much I enjoy that sort of thing. I’m sure you remember. I’m practically on the edge of my seat.
Anyway! Looking forward to this! I think I’d rather enjoy this ‘world run by men’ you’ve been talking about. Surely a kinder, more caring, and — dare I say it? — more sexy world than the one we live in.

One day, soon, teenage girls develop the ability to fire electricity from their hands, and the world changes overnight. We follow four characters trying to make sense of this new world: Roxy, the daughter of a London crime family; Tunde, a young boy who becomes a YouTube journalist documenting the phenomenon; Margot, a politician who works out how to use the situation to her advantage; and finally Allie, who can control her power better than anyone and who, as Mother Eve, will use it to forge a new religion for their age.

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An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

anaccidentofstars“What’s your name, girl?”
“Saffron,” she said, clearly surprised by the question. “Saffron Coulter.”
“Well, Saffron Coulter, let me give you some unsolicited advice,” said Gwen, because having already come this far, she might as well go that little bit further — then faltered at the realisation that there wasn’t much she could say. She didn’t know what else was going on in Saffron’s life, and the boy’s harassment of her wasn’t going to stop just because Gwen had literally twisted his arm. What could she possibly say that might make a difference?
“Yeah?” said Saffron, expectantly. “What?”
Gwen sighed. “Life is hard. Some days we get our asses kicked, but apathy breeds more evils than defeat. So, you know. Keep fighting.”
It was, Gwen thought, a shitty speech — Pix would probably laugh until she cried — but the girl, Saffron, lit up as though she’d never heard anything better.
“Thank you,” she said again — quieter than before, but also stronger.

Teenager Saffron Coulter is at the end of her patience. A persistent victim of constant sexual harassment at her indifferent school, she would love a way out, if only she could find one. So when, by chance, she meets Gwen Vere, a rare adult who sees her predicament and acknowledges that it’s wrong, she’s desperate to talk to her more. Unfortunately, Gwen happens to be a worldwalker, in the process of entering a portal to another world when Saffron finally finds her again. In a split-second decision, Saffron follows her.

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The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

The Winged Histories is the companion novel to A Stranger in Olondria by the same author, but it is not necessary to read that before reading this book. However, be warned (and I speak from experience), you may love The Winged Histories so much that you’ll want to go back and read A Stranger in Olondria next!

thewingedhistoriesThe swordmaiden will discover the secrets of men. She will discover that men at war are not as men at peace. She will discover a unforeseen comradeship. Take care: this comradeship is a Dueman shield. It does not extend all the way to the ground.
The swordmaiden will discover that her forebears are few. There was Maris, and there was Galeron of Nain, and there was the False Countess of Kestenya.
The swordmaiden will hear rumours of others, but she will not find them.
Her greatest battle will be waged against oblivion.

Four women tell their history from both sides of a brutal rebellion. Tav, a soldier, wants freedom for her country of Kestenya, but she’s from a royal family and has little in common with the nomadic people who live on the plains. Tialon is the last priestess of a new religion, left bereft on the death of her father. Seren, a poet, wants love but does not want to get married. And Siski, a princess and socialite, is hiding a devastating secret. All four of them write their stories, but history will not remember all of their voices.

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The City of Woven Streets by Emmi Itäranta

thecityofwovenstreets“Are you certain you don’t know her?”
The question makes no sense. I look at the girl again, just to be certain, although I do not need to. She has closed her eyes and her breathing is turning even. Her muscles twitch slightly. She does not open her eyes.
“Of course I’m certain,” I say.
Weaver stares at me, then at Alva again.
“Why do you ask such a thing?” she says.
Alva steps right next to the girl. She does not react when Alva takes her hand ad gently coaxes open the fingers closed in a loose fist.
“Because of this,” Alva says, and turns the palm upwards. The light from the glow-glass falls on it. Bright marks begin to glow on the skin, the letters forming a word I recognize immediately.
Eliana. My name.

Eliana is one of the lucky ones on the island. She lives and works as a weaver at the top of the central hill in the House of Webs, and the regular floods that plague the lower streets are not her concern. But if anyone were to discover her secret — that she is cursed with the nightmares that everyone fears — her life of privilege would be over and she would be made a slave.

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Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

penricsdemon“You ought to have a name for when I mean all of you, as one. Not Demon. Something nicer than what I’d call a dog, for the five gods’ sakes. How if I pick something? Make it a present.”

The silence this time was so long, he wondered if the creature had gone back to sleep, or into hiding, or whatever it did when he could not feel or hear it.

“In twelve long lives,” it said quietly at last, “no one has ever offered us a present.”

Penric is an insignificant younger brother of a minor Baron of a kingdom in the middle of nowhere. But on the way to his betrothal to the daughter of a rich cheese merchant, he stops to help a dying woman. Unfortunately, it turns out the woman is a sorcerer who carries a demon, and on her death, the demon transfers to the nearest suitable person — in this case, Penric.

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Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

truthwitchThis monk was a rutting Bloodwitch. A creature from the myths, a being who could smell a person’s blood — smell their very witchery — and track it across entire continents. If he latched onto Safi’s or Iseult’s scent, then they were in deep, deep–
Pop-pop-pop!
Gunpowder burst inside firepots. The guards had hit the trap.
Safi reacted instantly — as did the monk. His sword swished from its scabbard; her knife came up. She clipped the edge of his blade, parrying it aside.
He recovered and lunged. Safi lurched back. Her calves hit Iseult, yet in a single fluid movement, Iseult kneeled —  and Safi rolled sideways over her back.
Initiate. Complete. It was how the girls fought. How they lived.

When witches Safiya and her best friend Iseult accidentally set up a heist on the wrong target, they are suddenly wanted by the city authorities and start to flee. Worse, Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to tell truth from lies — a powerful political weapon in the wrong hands, if anyone was to discover her secret. All they want is their freedom, but they soon run into bigger problems. The twenty-year peace truce of the Empire is about to expire, and Iseult’s guardian and Safiya’s uncle have an elaborate plot designed to prevent a war… and it relies on Safiya co-operating. There is no place for Iseult in their plans, so the girls are separated. While Safiya navigates court politics and makes a tentative ally in a foreign prince, Iseult faces the family she left behind and learns about a powerful new adversary. But whatever happens, they must first find each other again.

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Skin by Ilka Tampke

skinBorn to the skinless, or lost to their families before naming, the unskinned were not claimed by a totem. Their souls were fragmented, unbound to the Singing. If they remained little seen, they were not despised, not usually harmed. The townspeople gave them enough grain, cloaks and work, if they would do it. But they could not live within the town walls because no one could be sure who they were.
Skin was gifted from mother to child by a song.
I had no mother. I had no skin.
But I had been spared. Just.

It is AD 43, and the British tribes of the south west are starting to fear the consolidation of the Roman invasion, begun 100 years earlier. Ailia is a British girl, growing up as an outcast among her people — as a foundling she does not know her family, and so does not belong to a totem, and a crucial part of her identity — her Skin — is missing. Caught between the inevitable Roman domination and the ancient traditions of the land, she must find her spiritual place in her tribe in order to lead them through the uncertain times. But how can she have any authority when she has no Skin?

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

girlofinkandstarsThere was only one map that showed the whole of our island, and it hung in Da’s study. I called it Ma’s map, because it had been passed down through her family for generations, maybe even since Arinta’s time, a thousand years ago. It had always felt like a sign that Ma and Da were meant for each other, that he was a cartographer and her only heirloom was a map.
Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow, Da would often say. See here, how my blood runs not blue at my wrist, but black? Your mother always said it was ink. I am a cartographer through to my heart.

Isabella lives on the island of Joya with her father, a cartographer. He used to sail around the world, making maps. But then a new Governor of the island arrived, who forbade anyone from ever leaving, or even stepping foot in the sea. He also divided the island in half with an impassable forest, so that Isabella has never even seen the other villages. But one day, Isabella’s classmate is murdered, and her best friend Lupe, who happens to be the Governor’s daughter, goes missing. Isabella must trust her maps and her courage if she is to find her.

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War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

This is the final book in my series of musical magic books, and it just so happens that I’ve saved the best until last!

warfortheoaksEddi swallowed thickly and closed her eyes.
His little laugh startled them back open. “Can it be?” he said with a taunting smile. “You watch the glaistig melt and never turn a hair, yet let me but change from dog to man, and your courage flies away!”
Fury rose up in her, shouldering her fear aside. “Let go of me,” she said, her voice flat and icy. She shrugged his hands from her arms.
“Truly, I mean you know harm,” he said.
“That must be why you pushed me down the stairs.”
“I did not push you,” he said, irritated. “You fell.”

When Eddi McCandry breaks up with her boyfriend and quits her rock and roll band, she thinks her night can’t possibly get any worse. But then she finds herself being hunted through the Minneapolis streets by an impossibly fast dog with red eyes. He is a phouka, a trickster fairy who has decided to recruit her as the mortal force in a faerie war. And he’s also going to be her bodyguard, which means he won’t let her out of his sight, and Eddi’s opinion about this is apparently irrelevant. As the date for the fateful battle draws nearer, Eddi must use all her courage to make sure she and her friends get out of the mess alive. And get her band back together.

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