2016 might have turned out to be my year of genre fiction. My attention span has been shorter than ever, it seems, and I have lost patience with books that require too much work on my part more times than I can count. And the pattern doesn't show signs of letting up anytime soon—maybe my year of genre fiction will turn into a permanent change in my reading habits.
As the holidays approached and the year came to a close, I found the thing I wanted most from my reading was an escape. I wanted to get out of my own head, get out of the reality of work and relationships and household chores and other people in general and go somewhere else. Somewhere the rules are different or nonexistent. Somewhere magic is real and the usual limits don't apply.
If you find yourself looking for an escape this week, maybe something magical and fantastical to carry you into the new year, here are some adventures I went on recently that might appeal to you as well.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
I loved Heartless so much, I worry that all I can do is make squeaky noises and flail my arms around, but I'll do my best to be coherent. It's set in the world of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but I'd call it an origin story for the Queen of Hearts rather than a retelling of the original. Cath is a girl with a dream—of owning her own bakery—but her parents are determined that she marry the King of Hearts instead. Cath is the quintessential people-pleaser who is racked with guilt anytime she even slightly defies her parents in pursuit of what she wants. But then she meets Jest, the King's court joker, and being a good, compliant girl gets a whole lot harder. I have never rooted so hard for a character to completely lose her shit on the people around her. And when she finally does, it leads to one of the most devastating, crushing, yet satisfying endings I've ever read. Perfect from start to finish.
Ash by Malinda Lo
Keeping with the retelling theme, Ash is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. How can you say no to that? You can't! The best part of the book for me was the dreamlike feel. It was like the enchanted fairy woods grew up and surrounded me while I read, an effect that was enhanced by the low and hypnotic audio narration performed by the author. Though the book is less action-packed than most YA fantasies, the mood is so perfectly realized that the lulls just give you a chance to soak up more of the delicious atmosphere.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
Brujas! In Brooklyn! Alex is a witch, but she doesn't want to accept her powers because they seem to bring her nothing but pain. Unfortunately, when she tries to give her powers back to her ancestors, she ends up making her entire family disappear. She got them into this mess, now she's going to have to get them out of it, even if it takes a journey to the underworld. Oddly, the book's biggest strength is also, in a way, a weakness: I love all the cultural detail Cordova squeezes into the book, but the sheer volume of information she has to impart results in a few spots of dialogue that feel like forced info-dumps instead of natural conversation. That said, I often shy away from investing in series fiction, but the ending contains one of the best sequel setups I've seen in a while. Very curious to see where Cordova takes Alex and friends next.
Menagerie by Rachel Vincent
Delilah had no idea when she agreed to go see a traveling menagerie that she herself might end up inside one of its cages. But after she witnesses one of the exotic cryptids being abused by a handler, Delilah's rage transforms her into a mind-manipulating, bloodshot-eyed, floating-haired monster, and she's immediately captured and jailed along with the other non-human species in the carnival's collection. Not only is this a fascinating fantasy story in its own right, but it's also shockingly timely. There's so much going on thematically and so many ways those themes connect with the current prevailing attitudes in our nation, you could discuss this book until the cows came home.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
I don't really know how to classify this book, and I can see how it wouldn't be for everyone, but I really enjoyed the ride through Anders's trippy brain. This is the kind of book that requires a reader who is willing to say yes a lot. A brilliant scientist and a magician who were childhood friends team up to try to save the world? Sure. There's magic spells and curses alongside supertechnical geeky machines? Absolutely. The story is told out of order and jumps around a lot, with big gaps in the timeline? Fine with me. Wrestling with weighty, real-world issues like climate change with a team of witches who convene in a bookshop? Why the heck not. If you can roll with weird, you're in for a treat with this book.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Two sisters, both talented artists, are accepted into an elite residency program, but only one can be chosen and have all her dreams come true. Imogen and Marin have been estranged for years after suffering through a terrible childhood with an abusive mother, but they hope their time together at the retreat will renew their relationship. It doesn't take long, though, for their artistic ambitions and the nature of the program to turn the dynamic toward competition. This is no ordinary artists' retreat, and those woods are full of all manner of sinister things. I don't have a sister, so I'm sure some of those elements of the narrative were lost on me, but I could definitely relate to the questions about how our past affects our art and what is and isn't worth sacrificing to achieve greatness.