Those of us who were readers of that one series with the dragons and the epic betrayals and the television adaptation that collapsed in on the black hole of its own juggernaut, know what it means to be disappointed. The last book published in that series, which was definitely not the last book in the series, came out while I was still in grad school. It’s been a minute since I was in grad school. Readers had a similar experience with Stephen King’s “Gunslinger” series, which took a near death experience to nudge its author to seriously really no joke just finish the damn thing!
And so I am often wary of taking on the first book in a series. And yet here I am, having given my heart to three first books in [what I deeply hope will be] trilogies [and no more]. Which feels like an exercise in trust, to some extent, but also an exercise in not-knowing, in accepting a lack of control, in allowing what will happen to happen. It also reminds me to love any piece of art for what it presents right now, to not resist falling in love with a world or a group of characters or a cluster of ideas because I am not assured of its continuance (or my own). Whatever happens with subsequent books, you always remember your first.
The City We Became, N. K. Jemisin – I touched on this novel briefly when writing about New York just over a year ago. On that first reading, I liked the book but was not sure I loved it, certainly not with the all-consuming adoration that enveloped me when reading Jeminsin’s “Broken Earth” trilogy. And yet it sticks with me. I find myself thinking about Bronca and Brooklyn and Manhattan, wondering what comes next for these individuals turned avatars for their respective boroughs, curious about how they will defend their city and its core self.
Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko – This YA fantasy novel centers on an imagination of West Africa, but with 13 distinct realms that represent other real world cultures from India to China, Mexico to Scotland. The central character, Tarisai, has been raised to be a prime candidate for the crown prince’s council, an emotional and psychic bond that prevents the prince (or later emperor) from death by anything other than a council member. There’s only hitch. Tarisai has been ordered by her mysterious mother, The Lady, to get on the council and then kill the prince. Raybearer includes rich world building and likable characters, written well. Fortunately, the sequel, Redemptor, comes out this summer!
The Library of the Dead, T. L. Huchu – I devoured this book about a young Scottish teenager, Ropa, a child of African immigrants who hustles for food and rent by carrying messages from the dead to the living. One recently dead woman sends Ropa to look for her missing son, and Ropa discovers that other children are going missing as well. Set in a near-future Edinburgh, one where magic exists and things in the world have gotten generally bad, we hear the story in Ropa’s voice and through her perspective. This one is fantasy-in-the-real-world in style but such good writing, with such a compelling central character ,that it represents some of the best of the genre.