The month of March was spent losing myself in fantasy worlds. Most of these literary travels were guided by complex, flawed women whose voice echoed for a long time in my mind after closing their books.
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor
Giving you a synopsis for this book would spoil most of volume 1 (simply entitled Binti - read my review here), so let me just tell you that this sequel is just as engaging, thought-provoking and fascinating. I admire that it is fast-paced but does not feel fast-paced, if that makes sense. The author manages to squeeze a lot in very few pages by focusing on the core of her story and the essence of her main character (a Black woman, yay for diversity!). I'm impressed by her skill.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip
I discovered Patricia A. McKillip with Alphabet of Thorn, a fantasy novel which quickly became a strong favourite, and which I re-read with the same pleasure last December. So when I heard about the femmefantale readathon celebrating SFFF stories written by women, I picked another book by this author to put on my reading list. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld tells about Sybel, a woman wizard living in isolation with legendary animals on the slopes of the Eld mountain, until one day she is given the care of a baby whose parents caused a war between neighbouring realms. It is a tale of independence, womanhood and the power of names. Patricia A. McKillip doesn't only write novels with female heroes. As with the women in Alphabet of Thorn, she creates full-fledged characters with a real presence and a voice of their own. Sybel is not perfect, and it's fascinating to follow her thoughts and emotions as her world slowly opens to the outside. The beginning of the book left me a bit confused. There were quite a few names and I had trouble understanding the ins and outs of the situation. However, the luscious writing drew me in and after the first chapter, when the story settled, I was hooked. Patricia A. McKillip has a way with words. She weaves such atmospheric, detailed and imaginative sentences that I wanted to write down every other one in my quotations notebook.
Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan
Every year, eight young women are chosen from the Paper caste to become the Paper girls, concubines of the Demon King for a year. Coming from the lowest caste, it is seen as an honour for them and their family. Lei, who lost her mother in an army raid on her village, doesn't envy their fate. But her golden eyes attract the attention of a general and she has no choice but to become the ninth Paper girl if she wants to keep her family safe. Natasha Ngan builds an Asian-inspired kingdom which transported me thanks to her short but evocative descriptions. It wasn't hard to empathise with Lei, and I loved seeing her relationships with the other Paper girls unfurl and change. Because of the subject, the story deals with very heavy topics, but I thought they were very well approached. To be read for a fresh perspective!
The Collectors, by Philip Pullman
This short story is set in the world of His Dark Materials. It focuses on a discussion between two scholars about two mysterious works of art that I can't tell you more about without spoiling most of the fun. I suppose it's best if you've read Northern Lights before, but it could also be an introduction to the world if you like academical settings. There was a lovely and slightly creepy fantastical atmosphere blossoming in very few pages. The story was first published as an audio book read by Bill Nighy and I can only imagine how enjoyable that must be.
The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien
Three years into a PhD on illustrations for Tolkien, when I pick a Middle-earth story I wonder as much about the book as about the edition to read it in. For my re-read of The Silmarillion, I chose this Folio Society edition with illustrations by Francis Mosley. I'm preparing a talk on his illustrations so I took the time to appreciate them alongside the text!
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What did you read in March?