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Book Favourites from Library Staff 2022: Speculative Fiction

Spec Fic 22

From tea monks to suffragist witches, the cast of characters found in these books couldn't be more varied, or more set to stretch your imagination. Settle in, put your feet up and enjoy the ride. You can click on the titles for catalogue information.

Dead Silence by S A Barnes
Claire Kovalik is part of a space beacon repair crew that picks up a strange distress signal. When they discover the Aurora, a famous luxury space-liner that vanished more than twenty years ago, it seems that the salvage claim will set her and her team up for life. But on board things are not what they seem – whispers in the dark, flickers of movement, and words scrawled in blood. A suspenseful novel combining science fiction and horror to keep you on the edge of your seat. Mya

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
This is the first in the Monk and Robot series. The setting is a kind of utopia, where people live in a post-industrial, spiritual way, in harmony with nature. Centuries ago, the robots of Panga gained self-awareness, downing tools and wandering off into the wilderness. One day a tea monk is surprised when a robot appears out of the blue and asks: what do people need? - honouring the old promise of checking in. If you’re after a more comforting, more contemplative kind of science-fiction, this could be the book for you. Kate

Murderbot Diaries series, by Martha Wells  
A violent, self-hacking cyborg searching for the meaning of life is the main character in this series. The first book, All Systems Red, transports us to a world where planetary missions must be approved by a corporation known as The Company, but with cost cutting a priority, safety comes off second best. On a distant planet, a mission goes ‘dark’ and it is up to a team of nearby scientists to figure out what has happened, with some help from their Company droid. A pacey, engrossing read. Kate

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin
This is a young adult fantasy novel set in a world where humans despise witches. We follow Lou, a young witch living underneath a disguise in the city of Cesarine. And Reid, a Chasseur sworn to the church as a witch hunter. Their story weaves together in an interesting plot, and you’re in luck because there are two more books in this series. Amy

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Charming, whimsical, delightful. This book is enchanting and there is so much I love about it. The characters are the heart and soul of this story. Diligent Linus Baker, who is just doing his job and following all of the rules, but is a truly caring man, and if he is completely honest with himself, a lonely man. Strong and fatherly Arthur Parnassus, who is fiercely protective of the children in his care at Marsyas Island Orphanage. The children, all so full of personality and hope in a world that does not accept them.

The status quo of the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), the orphanages it oversees, and the fear spread about magical people are achingly sad. I felt such a sense of injustice for the children on Marsyas, and others like them, an unfortunately familiar feeling with the many injustices of our own world. But the true feeling of this book is warmth and joy. The love between the family on the island, not biologically related, but very truly a family. The spirit of those fighting to make things better. It leaves your heart full. Add the house in the cerulean sea to the fictional locations I long to visit. Lara

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
As with The House in the Cerulean Sea, this is charming, whimsical, and delightful. I was entirely charmed by the characters, and the house. Death and grief are central themes here but in a rather uplifting way. The idea of a reaper and a ferryman collecting you and guiding you to the next place, whatever is beyond that door, is somewhat comforting. It is not easy for everyone to move on, for a variety of reasons. It is the job of the residents of Charon’s Crossing to help them through, but not before they are ready. Their guidance is given with the utmost care. 

Most do not stay long at Charon’s Crossing, but Wallace is one of those who linger. He forms relationships with Mei, the reaper; Hugo, the ferryman; and Nelson, Hugo’s grandfather, which are deeper and truer than those he had in life. Their kindness makes him reflect on how he lived his life and try to be better even in death. The Manager (a mysterious overarching figure in charge of the reapers and ferry-people) becomes dissatisfied with how long Wallace is staying and puts time pressure on this found family. Add ghost-dog Apollo and an array of visitors to the tea house and this is a fun yet emotional story. I wonder what tea Hugo would pour me at Charon's Crossing. Lara

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
A gripping, modern, fantasy story. Like a dark fairy tale, with vampire story vibes, except this rare line of people feed on books, not blood. Among them though is an even rarer kind whose hunger is for human minds, who are sent away from their families as children and managed by Knights. Devon is raised in one branch of The Family, the old, reclusive British clan of book eaters. She is fed mostly fairy tales, as all book eater girls are, and when she misbehaves, dictionaries as punishment. The Family is very patriarchal. Book eater girls are destined to become brides, and mothers, but not to raise their children past infancy. When Devon has a son, he is born a mind eater. Devon is determined to eschew tradition and keep her son with her. This is not easily done.

As the story progresses more fantastic detail about book eaters and their customs are revealed. Book eaters absorb information from what they eat, with the ability to learn languages, or memorise maps and timetables, through what they consume. I loved the descriptions of the way different books and stories taste. There is action, adventure, and also gore at times, as mind eaters must feed. Hard choices are made, but Devon is fierce and likeable and would do anything for her son. Lara

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Oh my witchy goodness. I loved this book. Combining amazing, female-centred, historical fiction, with incredible witchy fantasy is exactly my cup of tea. The Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, and the fight for women’s votes is joined by a fight for witching. They are both tough battles with formidable opponents to overcome. A beautifully written story of empowerment, the lore and magic of this world are brilliant, and the characters really come to life.

I read this when I was sick, and I believe the witch ways for healing must be lots of tea, a good book, and a few days spent in bed. Lara

11 January 2023

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