Top 5: Weird Literary Fantasy

As every reader, I definitely have a type. Or rather, a few types, and weird literary fantasy is one of them. It could be best described as the “I have no idea what the fuck did I just read, but whoa 😮” subgenre of fantasy – weird, experimental, often trippy, gorgeously written, and in a way also fun.

The books below have five things in common, aside from genre:

  • They’re all pure 5-star reads as far as I’m concerned.
  • If you read and liked one, it’s highly possible you’ll like the others (same for dislike!).
  • The prose in all of them is firmly on the stained glass rather than windowpane side, but modern – there’s little I dislike as much as flowery ultraviolet archaic prose.
  • They all do something strange and new and experimental – whether in content, structure, or both – and are lighter on plot and less approachable than most SFF.
  • All work as standalones!

So, let’s go!

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Reread: The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar (Olondria #2)

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Note: I have not read A Stranger in Olondria before The Winged Histories. It works perfectly fine as a standalone.

This is one of my favourite novels of all time along with The Gray House and more recently The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I first read it in the summer of 2017 and have been thinking it was a shame I never wrote up anything on it ever since. A book that means so much to me – that deserves words. Praise. Anything. So allow me to write something a little…extra ✨

I have breathed on shadows, as one breathes into a soap bubble, to give it breadth and life. I did it because I had to, because human beings cannot live without history, and I have no history or tradition that is not located in a pale, aggressive body lying in the dirt, or hanging from a tree. […] What is the difference between a genius and a monster?

It’s so hard to set expectations correctly. Anything, anything you knew about fantasy and the paths stories take, their structure – it goes right out the window. Forget it. As much of literary fantasy, it avoids the beaten path.

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Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

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ARC received from the publisher (Saga Press) on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Whoa. Just…whoa. Another candidate for “best of 2019” for me. It’s like someone distilled almost everything I like into one book – exquisite prose, a high dose of weirdness, a queer relationship, a more literary feel, experimental structure – and the end result is breathtaking. Brilliant in a way I’m not sure a review can illustrate. It has to be read to be believed.

I feel almost invincible in our battles’ wake: a kind of Achilles, fleet footed and light of touch. Only in this nonexistent place our letters weave do I feel weak. How I love to have no armor here.

Footnote for fans of the romance genre: for the sake of proper expectations, this is a love story but is not romance genre-wise – if anyone rec’d it as such…🤦

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Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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I came to this book primarily as a long-time fantasy fan – even though I had read Never Let Me Go many years ago, I have few memories of it. The Buried Giant had, in theory, all the makings of a book I could enjoy. I like literary fantasy. I’m always looking for more books that deal with consequences of a big event (such as a war) rather than the event itself. Older protagonists are always a nice change of pace.

“Yet are you so certain, good mistress, you wish to be free of this mist? Is it not better some things remain hidden from our minds?”

Unfortunately, the end result is flatter than soda that’s been left outside for three days.

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Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

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Short but stunning. Despite probably not being long enough to even qualify as a novella, there’s a lot packed inside the small space. It’s about history, revisionism, stories, taking your truth back, humans exploiting other species without regard for anything but ourselves. And it’s beautiful. Highly, highly recommended.

Stories, too, they discovered. But it was a funny thing: They were shattered into pieces, like the Great Mother who had scattered them, and no one tale held to the ear by itself could ever be fully understood. To make them whole required many voices entwined. Then and only then could we become the undying We, endless voices passing along the one song that is also Many.

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Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (The Dark Star Trilogy #1)

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ARC received from the publisher on Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This has been one of the most hyped and anticipated fantasy releases of 2019. Literary fantasy set in Africa? Yes please. I wanted it so much and couldn’t believe my luck getting an early copy. The first few pages were wonderful. But, ultimately, as a long-time fantasy reader, I was left underwhelmed and disappointed.

I saw that I was still a boy. There were men stronger, and women too. There were men wiser, and women too. There were men quicker, and women too. There was always someone or some two or some three who will grab me like a stick and break me, grab me like wet cloth, and wring everything out of me. And that was just the way of the world. That was the way of everybody’s world. I who thought he had his hatchets and his cunning, will one day be grabbed and tossed and thrown in with garbage, and beaten and destroyed. I am the one who will need saving, and it’s not that someone will come and save me, or that nobody will, but that I will need saving, and walking forth in the world in the shape and step of a man meant nothing.

(quote taken from the ARC, subject to change upon publication)

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Review: The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

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(Look at that pretty cover!)

I have to admit I wasn’t too sure of the “suburban Beowulf” premise at first. But after a lot of praise and prodding by Jen of The Fantasy Inn (you were, as always, right – it was up my alley) I had to give it a try. I’m still not quite sure what I read, but I sure enjoyed it.

Listen to me. Listen. In some countries, you kill a monster when it’s born. Other places, you kill it only when it kills someone else. Other places, you let it go, out into the forest or the sea, and it lives there forever, calling for others of its kind. Listen to me, it cries. Maybe it’s just alone.

I have to admit I have only passing familiarity with Beowulf. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story at all, but I am wondering about all the connections I may have missed and the gaps the review might have because of it. So keep that in mind.

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