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.

Continue reading

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

masksandshadows“Did I tell you Niko’s invited a Castrato to stay?”
“What?” Charlotte von Steinbeck nearly spilled hot chocolate all across her silken sheets. She tightened her grip on the ridiculously fragile, overpoweringly expensive cup, and sighed. Her sister had done it on purpose, she was certain.
Sunlight streamed in through the open windows of Charlotte’s guest bedroom, sparking off the gilded leaves that edged every blue-and-white surface, and turning her sister Sophie’s unpowdered blonde hair into an incongruous halo.
“Oh, I suppose we ought to call him a musico, to be polite. But you know what they really are.” Sophie’s eyes glinted with mischief.

It is 1799, and Eszterháza palace is the destination for the music-loving aristocracy of the Habsburg empire. One of the guests in Charlotte von Steinbeck, a recently widowed Baroness who is staying with her younger sister Sophie, recently installed as the mistress of the palace’s owner Prince Nikolaus. Also in residence is Joseph Haydn, the famous composer, who is in charge of the Prince’s private opera company, and Carlo Morelli, the celebrated Castrato singer.  But the Palace is host to other guests too, not all of whom are showing who they really are.

Continue reading

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

thesparrowAt first, they simply listened to the fragment of music over and over, each time groaning as the signal fell off to static just as the music began to build to something wonderful. Then, after the third hearing, Anne said, “Okay. What can we tell about them? They sing in groups, and there is a lead singer. So they have a social organization. Can we assume they breathe air because their music can be heard like this?”
“We can assume they have some kind of atmosphere that propagates sound waves,” George said, “but not necessarily anything we could breathe.”

Jimmy is a young astronomy student when he makes the discovery of a lifetime — a musical signal coming from a planet orbiting the nearby star Alpha Centauri, proof that alien life exists only a few light years away. Sharing his discovery with his closest friends, including Jesuit priest Father Emilio Sandoz, a madcap plan develops — the Jesuits will secretly fund a mission to this planet, named Rakhat, and Jimmy and his friends will make the first contact.

Continue reading

Sing The Four Quarters by Tanya Huff

Musical magic seems to have been a Thing in the 80s and early 90s, with examples by such giants of the genre as Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey. I’ve picked a slightly less well known book by Tanya Huff, that’s a pretty much perfect high fantasy example.

imageHis tone picked up an edge. “I’d have to say you act exactly like a princess: high-handed, always wanting your own way, always assuming you’re right and everyone else is wrong.”
“I don’t always assume I’m right,” Annice protested. “It just usually turns out that I am, and oh, center it, I knew it was going to rain.”

Annice is a bard, and her job is to walk the length and breadth of the kingdom, hearing and delivering news, and to Sing one or all of the four quarters (air, earth, fire and water) — using the magic of the music to affect the world around her. But she wasn’t always a bard — Annice gave up a life of luxury as a princess to join the bard community, angering her brother the King, who disinherited her and declared that if she ever married or had children, it would be an act of treason. And now Annice is accidentally pregnant.

Continue reading

The Black Opera by Mary Gentle

imageFor a moment Conrad was beyond the pain, luminous with a memory of absolute satisfaction. Music and human voices intertwining with precision and drive, building to a heart-shaking climax, and — after the end of the opera’s last act — twenty-seven seconds of pure silence. Every level of the opera house from boxes to pit exploded in applause. Brava! Bravi! Bravissimo!

Conrad Scalese, librettist — no — poet. Creator of stories…
Conrad rolled over, half-burying himself in sheets and blankets.
… Finally successful! Finally there.
The world tore apart with a shattering, literal, crash.

Conrad Scalese is a rising star in the Neapolitan Opera scene, just starting to make a name for himself when tragedy strikes — the night after the premiere of his latest masterpiece, a dramatisation of the French Revolution, lightning strikes the theatre where it is playing. The Inquisition believes this is God’s punishment for the irreverent subject matter, and Conrad is immediately arrested. However, he is offered a chance to save his skin by the King of Naples himself….

Continue reading

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

It’s coming up to Spring, which means it’s time for us to choose a new theme each! This season, each of us is going to be exploring magical systems based on different principles — I will be reading stories about magic based on music, whereas Rachel will be exploring magic based on food. We each have some amazing books lined up, and can’t wait to talk about them!

thechimesChimes is always different, and even after the thousands of times, I couldn’t venture to explain what it’s like.
It’s the melody simple first. We follow in solfege. Hands in concert as the sky is carved by it: Soh Fah Me Doh Ray Me Soh Fah Me Me Ray Doh Doh Soh Soh. The the melody is repeated, but turned upside down. Then it comes again, but up an octave and another voice takes the inverted melody and they weave together. The chords wash over. They clean and centre me. The weight of the tonic goes down my spine and into the ground.
There is no space for any other thought.

Simon Wythern has come to London following instructions from his mother, who has recently died. But this isn’t a London we would recognise — everything is music. Every object plays a tune, people communicate in music, and playing an instrument is the most highly prized skill. Orchestrating it all is a giant instrument called The Carillion, and every night, The Chimes play, filling the air with deafening music and destroying the memories of those who listen.

Continue reading