Here is some of my recent reading for grown-ups – two beautifully detailed, intricately plotted, and female-focused worlds. Both of these showed up in my Top 10 New-to-Me Authors I Read for the First Time in 2016.
Ancillary Justice. Imperial Radch 1 by Ann Leckie. Read by Celeste Ciulla. Recorded Books, 2013.
Ancillary Sword. Imperial Radch 2 by Ann Leckie. Read by Adjoa Andoh. Hachette Audio, 2014.
My friends have been raving about these since they came out, but it took me a while to decide that I really was up to tackling Serious Adult Science Fiction. My love and I bought the audiobooks, so we could listen on our separate commutes and then discuss. He’s already listened to the third book, while I’m waiting until after my Cybils listening.
Breq used to be the mind behind a gigantic space ship, with thousands of bodies to command. Now she is down to her last one, and it’s spent the last 20 years on a mission to get revenge on the person responsible for the loss of her ship and the lieutenant she loved.
The first book goes back and forth between that present hunt and the story of the events that prompted the current quest. It’s a multi-faceted story set in a deeply layered world of empires and the different cultures across the planets, a view from an insider to the empire who’s very much aware of the shortcomings of empire. And this is only scratching the surface of the many aspects to think about and explore, from music and tea to gender roles and the ethics of artificial intelligence.
The narrator on the first book was not my favorite, though not bad enough to stop listening. Ciulla reads with a flat tone that is perhaps appropriate considering she’s representing an AI, but was nonetheless a little tough to focus on. There are also numerous references in the text to different accent, languages and dialects, but no attempt to reproduce anything like it in the audio. I much preferred the second narrator, who was more expressive and had more differentiation in accents. She also pronounced many of the names differently – fans of continuity, you are warned!
It’s true these aren’t something to read if you have absolutely no brain power left – but they are also not so difficult as I had feared. I was pulled completely in, and look forward both to finishing the series and to re-reading it. Make sure you have a cup of tea at hand before you start reading.
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. Image, 2016.
This graphic novel takes us to an Asian-inspired fantasy world where arcanics battle witches in bloody battles. Maika Halfwolf is an arcanic sold to the witches. She’ll do anything to escape and to help the other imprisoned children get out – even as she knows they’re in danger from the monster inside herself as well. The illustrations are lush and detailed art-deco styled, so that even the violence comes out beautiful – though there is more of this than I would ordinarily prefer. Maika’s companions on the first part of her escape are an adorable part-fox girl named Kippa and a two-tailed cat. (The narrative is punctuated by scenes from a cat university, where a cat professor explains the history of the worlds.) This is a fairly short graphic novel that packs a lot in. I’ll definitely be watching for more in the series.