I appreciate the way genre designations can make books easier to find, but I confess that I love the bleeding edges where books shade from one genre into another; my current bailiwick is historical fantasy. I find that it brings the best elements of historical fiction – a strong sense of time, place, and culture – and melds it with the fantastical elements that make anything possible. Here are a few recent titles that I’ve been thrilled to find.
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – In 1491, Granada, the last remaining vestige of Muslim Spain, has been surrounded and besieged by the Catholic Spanish forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. When a delegation comes inside the walled city to negotiate, young concubine Fatima is charged with welcoming the female delegates, including a member of the Spanish Inquisition. After Fatima accidentally reveals that her friend Hassan, the court’s mapmaker, can draw places he’s never seen and reshape reality, she realizes she has put him in danger. Aided by jinn, Fatima and Hassan flee the city.
The Night Tiger by Yangszee Choo – In this story grounded in Malayan and Chinese folklore, a supernatural weretiger stalks the city. In 1930s colonial Malaya, young Ren is charged by his dying master, Dr. MacFarlane, to find a finger MacFarlane had amputated and preserved years before. If it’s not buried with his body, he fears his spirit will never be at rest. Meanwhile Ji Lin works for a dressmaker during the day and in a dance hall at night while dreaming of university. When a client gives her the preserved severed finger and then dies shortly thereafter, Ji Lin and Ren come into one another’s orbit.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – In early 1900s Russia, young Vasya roams her father’s rural estate on the edge of the forest, communing with the spirits of her house and woods. When her father remarries, her devout stepmother Anna prohibits the family from practicing the rites that honor the household spirits. As the town priest supports Anna and the townfolk follow their lead, the helpful spirits weaken and the frost-king returns, with only Vasya capable of helping.
~ posted by Andrea G.