Speak by Louisa Hall

speak-by-louisa-hall

What’s the world like, the world that I’m missing? Do stars still cluster in the bare branches of trees? Are my little bots still dead in the desert? Or, as I sometimes dream during endless lights-out, have they escaped and gathered their forces? I see them when I can’t fall asleep: millions upon millions of beautiful babies, marching out of the desert, coming to take vengeance for having been banished.

It’s a fantasy, of course. Those bots aren’t coming back. They won’t rescue me from this prison. This is my world now, ringed with barbed wire.

Speak is presented as a collection of documents: letters from Alan Turing; the diaries of young Puritan colonist Mary Bradford; letters from AI pioneer Karl Dettman to his estranged wife; the prison journal of programmer Stephen Chinn (excerpted above). Together, these words form the core memories of MARY3, a chatbot program whose algorithm has been outlawed for being too human. The narrative is framed by a few pages of MARY3’s own words, her reflections as her robotic body is carted into the desert, there to be abandoned until her batteries die.

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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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Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond

girl_in_the_shadows

I was waiting in the wings backstage at the Menagerie Hotel and Casino, preparing the equipment or my first stage illusion. Straitjacket, check. Oversized timer and mood music speakers, check. And — most important — transparent coffin, check. As I lay straitjacketed inside it, I’d press a button that would expel all the air in the coffin with a dramatic puff for my audience’s benefit, and then I’d pull off a daring escape.

The coffin might sound morbid, but I wasn’t planning to die in it. I was planning to live.

Forget college or a normal future. I wanted to be a magician: The Miraculous Moira.

Moira Mitchell has only ever wanted one thing: to follow in her father’s footsteps as a stage illusionist. Far from being supportive of her dreams, however, her dad discourages and eventually forbids her from studying magic, insisting that his community is no place for a woman. Determined to make a name for herself regardless, Moira trains in secret, developing ever more daring escapes, and eventually running away to audition for a role with a travelling circus.

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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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Bessie Bell and the Goblin King by Charlotte E. English

Series note: Bessie Bell and the Goblin King is the third Aylfenhame novel, but although the stories are intertwined, and it was nice to see that some well established characters have a role to play here, these are books that work equally well out of sequence.

Bessie Bell

Horses loomed abruptly out of the mist: a matched pair, black as night. Bess tensed, her heart pounding wildly as the equipage barrelled down upon her. The horses snorted and neighed in surprise at finding an obstacle in their path, and one of them shied. Bess heard a male voice cursing. She waited until the last possible instant before leaping aside, heart palpitating with terror — and hope, that her foolish gambit had been enough.

For a moment it looked as though the carriage would not stop, and Bess’s spirits sank. It bowled on, sweeping past her in a flurry of wind and the scent of sweating horse, and was swallowed up by the
mist once more.

But the sound of hoofbeats slowed, and then stopped abruptly. It was not the gradual fading of the horses disappearing into the fog, and Bess’s hopes rose again. She clutched a shaking Derritharn to herself and stepped back into the road, hurrying after the coach.

When she grew nearer to the vehicle, she was able to see at once that it was not a mail-coach after all, nor anything nearly so large — or so promising. It was a gentleman’s carriage, the kind that seated but one or two, and the driver was the sole occupant. Oddly, there was no sign of the lanterns she had seen in the distance.

Bessie is a servant in a grand Lincolnshire manor house; the days are long and hard, but though her life is difficult, it isn’t intolerable… until the day she fends off a sexual assault from the master of the house and finds herself dismissed and evicted for her trouble. Thrown out in the middle of the night, without money or references, Bess has nothing to rely on except her wits and strength of character.

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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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Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani

Series note: Memories of Ash picks up the story straight after Sunbolt; this review will contain spoilers for Sunbolt.
memories of ash

CRACK.

I glance up, holding tight to the thread of my spell as the mountains throw a thunderous echo back to us. My skin tingles with the brush of magic, as if unseen creatures skitter up my arms, over my back. Across the valley, forest birds take to the air, calling out as they wheel over the lake. I catch the pale white flutter of snow pigeons, the midnight silhouette of ravens, and high up the snow-dusted peaks, the great dark wingspans of a pair of griffon vultures.

Seated cross-legged beside me on the banks of the lake, Brigit Stormwind murmurs, “That was the first ward.”

After casting a powerful fire spell that charred her from the inside out and leaves her fighting for her life, Hitomi is left with only fragmentary memories of her earlier life. Under the care of the mage Stormwind, she is just starting to rebuild her sense of self, and to learn to use her powers in a more predictable manner, when their peaceful valley life is disturbed by the arrival of a rogue hunter.

But he’s not coming for Hitomi. He’s coming to arrest Stormwind on charges of treason.
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