Currently reading (consuming/listening): The Invasion of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen, and A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness.
Megan’s recent blog post made me chuckle, namely because I haven’t been able to use my local library according to it’s designed intent, even though I live only five minutes away. And it’s entirely her fault.
I shall explain.
Megan has this…I would never say problem, because I fully encourage book buying. Megan has done a lot of that this past year. She is a hero to the print industry. And because of her investing and her exceptionally good taste, it means that I have my own stack of books, a curated list of recommendations with a high success rate. During my own book splurge this summer, I included a few books I initially read through her collection, but loved so much I needed copies of my own. I even have access to the audible account Megan maintains, because she is a wonderful friend and knows the value of audio books for long commutes.
A series I’m working through now is actually one from the Audible account, the Tearling trilogy, by Erika Johansen. I’ve finished the first book, The Queen of the Tearling, and am through the beginning of the second, The Invasion of the Tearling. The whole trilogy is on my Christmas list now and I’m eager to race through it. This book is innovative, while comprising so many of the key tenants and qualities I love: strong characters, including a strong, female lead, who is intelligent, decisive, and strategic, a medieval/pastoral setting, magic, an exceptional balance of stakes, and a compelling antagonist.
Reading, or rather listening to, this book series is like discovering the adult version of Wild Magic. And I certainly mean adult. It pushes beyond the unflinching gore and political intrigue of The Hunger Games, describing acts of war, violence, and terror, the cruelties of individuals and organized groups, exploring the abuses within power dynamics that are inherently familiar to us as we grow up and become hardened by the world. It reads like the way I think but do not speak in most situations. There is no veil of propriety or modesty. I believe there is a certain power in this kind of writing, though it wouldn’t suit every story.
Even in my own work, specifically “Roots of Ash,” I tend to discuss difficult, intimate, or graphic topics through euphemism, and comparing the two stories, I would definitely categorize “Roots of Ash” as YA and the Tearling trilogy as (Adult) Fantasy. It’s prodded me to contemplate the industry of fantasy and science fiction and wonder at the development of the genre. As Science Fiction and Fantasy have been integrated into wider and wider circles of popular culture and as more readers (and writers) have grown into adulthood with these stories embedded in their experience, the genre has gained a sense of legitimacy. No longer is fantasy relegated to polite childhood or meant for a sub-section of readers, with more serious readers and students of literature sticking to the classics or the lofty literary fiction section of the bookstore.
I believe that there will be greater nuance and blurring of the lines between YA and Adult fiction overall as society seeks more honest reflections of people within stories, people who, though enigmatic enough to have a story woven around them, also deal with the daily struggles of humanity: constipation in tandem with psychological strife, periods and chores alongside wooded rambling and war, and ultimately a more diverse array of protagonists in ever-imaginative worlds rooted in sincere and unflinching portraits of humanity. In this sense, science fiction and fantasy stories feel like philosophical questions at their hearts. Not a record of what humanity has done or might do, but a study of what humanity could do. What are we capable of when every variable is subject to change, to re-imagination?
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemison (though, full disclosure, I have not actually read the trilogy. It is on my bookshelf, kindly waiting in line. But I have heard amazing reviews from friends and articles, so I’m still going to recommend it.)
Notably, All the Birds in the Sky, The Broken Earth, and The Tearling trilogy have been described not simply as fantasy but as Science Fantasy; an intriguing development as another example of blurring, this one between science fiction and fantasy.