THE FOLDED WORLD – Catherynne Valente

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When the mysterious daughter of Prester John appears on the doorstep of her father’s palace, she brings with her news of war in the West–the Crusades have begun, and the bodies of the faithful are washing up on the shores of Pentexore. Three narratives intertwine to tell the tale of the beginning of the end of the world: a younger, angrier Hagia, the blemmye-wife of John and Queen of Pentexore, who takes up arms with the rest of her nation to fight a war they barely understand, Vyala, a lion-philosopher entrusted with the care of the deformed and prophetic royal princess, and another John, John Mandeville, who in his many travels discovers the land of Pentexore–on the other side of the diamond wall meant to keep demons and monsters at bay.

These three voices weave a story of death, faith, beauty, and power, dancing in the margins of true history, illuminating a place that never was.

Well, damn.

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ON A RED STATION, DRIFTING – Aliette de Bodard

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For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

On a Red Station, Drifting is a novella that I’ve always been asking for–a longer work set in the same universe as “Immersion” and “Scattered Along the River of Heaven.”

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THE HOUSE OF DISCARDED DREAMS – Ekaterina Sedia

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Trying to escape her embarrassing immigrant mother, Vimbai moves into a dilapidated house in the dunes… and discovers that one of her new roommates has a pocket universe instead of hair, there’s a psychic energy baby living in the telephone wires, and her dead Zimbabwean grandmother is doing dishes in the kitchen. When the house gets lost at sea and creatures of African urban legends all but take it over, Vimbai turns to horseshoe crabs in the ocean to ask for their help in getting home to New Jersey.

This isn’t a book, I suspect, that too many typical genre fans would like since it shades into magic realism. It’s orders of magnitude better than any other novel I’ve read by Sedia, and much superior to Heart of Iron. But it’s also a book where the author writes of a non-dominant culture and experience not her own, so standard precautions apply. See Tricia Sullivan’s post about writing Double Vision and her many, many, many fails with regards to writing black women and Japanese people.

Having said that, we can’t ignore the context of Sedia being from a non-dominant culture and Sullivan being very much so: there’s a vast gulf of experiences between a Russian immigrant to the US and a white American born and bred in the UK who never needs to apply for a visa to travel much of anywhere, and whose passport will never make her a subject of scrutiny.

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MECHANIQUE – Genevieve Valentine

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Come inside and take a seat, the show is about to begin…

Outside any city still standing, the Mechanical Circus Tresaulti sets up its tents. Crowds pack the benches to gawk at the brass-and-copper troupe and their impossible feats: Ayar the Strong Man, the acrobatic Grimaldi Brothers, fearless Elena and her aerialists who perform on living trapezes. War is everywhere, but while the Circus is performing, the world is magic.

That magic is no accident: Boss builds her circus from the bones out, molding a mechanical company that will survive the unforgiving landscape. But even a careful ringmaster can make mistakes.

Two of Tresaulti’s performers are entangled in a secret standoff that threatens to tear the circus apart just as the war lands on their doorstep. Now the Circus must fight a war on two fronts: one from the outside, and a more dangerous one from within.

Oh man, when was the last time I was this pleased about a book? It’s especially great because prior to this one I read bits of novels mediocre to outright shite, so the sheer blazing excellence of Valentine’s prose and style took me by surprise and felt like pure mountain air after you’ve been breathing nothing but secondhand smoke for fucking weeks. It’s made even more pleasant still since I didn’t expect anything because, y’know, steampunk. Seen one of those novels and you’ve seen them all.

Not this one.

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