What better way to escape the semi-lockdown than into fiction? All that free time means 6 books on last month’s list, so let’s just jump into it.
Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein, 2012)
With her words in my mind while I’m reading, she is as real as I am. Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous. She’s right here. Afraid and exhausted, alone, but fighting.
Code Name Verity is a fictional war story told in 2 voices – of Julie, an agent under arrest and interrogation by the Gestapo, and of Maddie, her pilot best friend trying desperately to find and rescue her.
Julie’s account is a tense read with every event inked under watchful, prying eyes. In her supposed confession, her breakdowns reveal cruelty in her unseen predicament. In her recounting of their past, we also see her unexpected friendship with Maddie and feel the emotions of loss, now that they have been separated.
Maddie’s more emotive personality only amplifies the feeling of this longing. Her perspective gives the puzzle the remaining pieces as well, reframing what has been said thus far. This plot may be made up, yet the close bond of the two women feels genuinely moving. How real the characters seem make for a compelling, beautifully told, and heart shattering story.
Rule of Wolves (Leigh Bardugo, 2021)
None of this had been fated; none of it foretold. There had been no prophecies of a demon king or a dragon queen, a one-eyed Tailor, Heartrender twins. They were just the people who had shown up and managed to survive. But maybe that was the trick of it: to survive, to dare to stay alive, to forge your own hope when all hope had run out.
Ravka is at war. King Nikolai and General Zoya ready themselves for the inevitable onslaught, while Nina plays spy on enemy territory. Rule of Wolves has everything one could ask for in a closing chapter of any fantasy story. Exciting warfare (both covert and on the battlefield), a solid redemption arc, heartaches along the way, and ultimately, exaltation that feels earned.
Every favourite character makes a return, and along with them, are greater reasons to love them more. The strong bonds between them can be palpably felt, and rarely is romance portrayed with such credibility and maturity. This is by far, the best book of the Grishaverse that teases something even better in the making. No mourners, no funerals!
The Bone Houses (Emily Lloyd-Jones, 2019)
She was half a wild creature that loved a graveyard, the first taste of misty night air, and the heft of a shovel. She knew how things died. And in her darkest moments, she feared she did not know how to live.
When the dead rise and attack her village, young gravedigger Ryn decides to travel to the heart of the mountains to break the curse. Tagging along is Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker who has a very different reason for his quest in his mysterious past.
The Bone Houses may follow a conventional arc for a hero’s journey, but is well set up for a fast-paced and fun adventure. Never mind the predictability, when the leads are charmingly imperfect and the road toward the destination remains constantly exciting.
The Kind Worth Killing (Peter Swanson, 2015)
Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing.
A man planning to murder his wife for infidelity and a stranger willing to help. The Kind Worth Killing‘s deceptively simple set-up soon builds up to a well-crafted, layered ploy that gets increasingly unsettling with each chapter.
Unfolding from multiple perspectives, the excellent psychological thriller alternates between voices that are telling of motive and guilt. It is not always easy to guess where the story is going. Besides, none of them are particularly good people, which only makes the murder games more gripping.
Lock In (John Scalzi, 2014)
Because this is what I learned about myself that first day: My body is my body. I don’t want anyone else in it. I don’t want someone else controlling it, or trying to. It’s my own little space in the world and the only space I have. And to have someone else in it, doing anything to it, sends me into a panic.
A pandemic turns millions into locked in patients known as Hadens. But the invention of Threeps meant they could still interact with the outside world via the so-named humanoid machines. The rich can also borrow Integrators, human bodies that they could co-inhabit through technological implants.
Lock In has an interesting concept, set in a fascinating new world that sees human evolution aided by technology. There is a clear divide between what the rich and poor Hadens could afford, defining whether they perceive their circumstance as victimhood. When the Government defunds the program and invokes unrest, the story soon turns into a police procedural. It scratches the surface of these implications, though not nearly as much as I wish it would.
Led by a Haden detective, the case is built on low stakes with his ability to dial back pain receptors in his Threep and him being always one step ahead of the villain. Nevertheless, the sci-fi mystery remains fun with its fast-paced action, making for a good weekend read.
Here and Now and Then (Mike Chen, 2019)
We’re all different people all through our lives, but that’s okay, as long as you remember all the people you used to be.
Stranded in the 90s after a botched mission, time travelling agent Kin Stewart is forced to reinvent his identity and settle into his new life in the past. The rescue team arrives 18 years later and pries him from his family, returning him to a family that he doesn’t remember in 2142.
As far as time travel stories go, Here and Now and Then doesn’t have the most original plot. It is easy to tell when and where Kin’s timey wimey rescue mission would eventually lead to.
But despite its predictability, the book remains a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner and fun read. There is heart amidst the fast-paced action in what is clearly crafted by a Whovian with obvious passion for the genre. The sci-fi references are bonus.