The Wolf Hour by Sara Lewis Holmes

This post is part of the Wolf Hour blog tour, organized by Tanita S. Davis over at Finding Wonderland. You can check out Tanita’s interview with Sara Lewis Holmes and Charlotte’s review and interview now, and keep an eye out for the other posts during October!

Welcome, my little lambs, to the Puszcza. It’s an ancient forest, a keeper of the deepest magic, where even the darkest fairy tales are real. Here, a Girl is not supposed to be a woodcutter, or be brave enough to walk alone. Here, a Wolf is not supposed to love to read, or be curious enough to meet a human. And here, a Story is nothing like the ones you read in books, for the Witch can make the most startling tales come alive. All she needs is …
A Girl from the village,
A Wolf from the forest,
& A Woodcutter with a nice, sharp axe.

So take care, little lambs, if you step into these woods. For in the Puszcza, it is always as dark as the hour between night and dawn — the time old folk call the Wolf Hour. If you lose your way here, you will be lost forever, your Story no longer your own. You can bet your bones.

The Wolf Hour is a fascinating and odd book, although I don’t mean odd in a negative sense here. I often don’t enjoy fairy tale mashups (as opposed to fairy tale retellings, which I do often love) but Holmes has woven in some of the things I like best about fairy tales: the strange logic, the sense of foreboding, the vivid imagery. So, despite the fact that this story contains strands of several different fairy tales, it feels more like one complete in itself.

Set in a small Polish town, outside the great forest called the puszcza, The Wolf Hour is the story of Magia the woodcutter’s daughter, who longs to be her father’s apprentice and help her family survive. It is the story of three pigs. It is the story of a wolf named Martin. But it is also the story of a woman named Miss Grand, and of Magia’s family. In this book, Story is a powerful force, and one that is not entirely benign. Once you’re part of a Story, you’re in it for better or worse.

One of the things I liked about this book was how complicated the characters felt. Although fairy tales can sometimes feel simplistic, here Lewis doesn’t allow any of her characters to simply be good or bad. At first, we encounter them more as types than as people, but gradually they are shaded in and become much more complex. This included a revelation that I found personally a bit shocking and even upsetting; I wonder if a kid reader would find it more or less so. From Miss Grand to Magia herself, we see almost everyone in this book in shades of grey.

I did personally find that the pacing was a bit odd, since the story jumps ahead by several years at one point. But overall, I felt this one was very successful at recreating the feeling of a fairy tale, with fresh themes and approaches. Magia seems very alone for much of the story, without anyone to guide or mentor her. And yet, by the end the place she has found for herself feels earned and right. She and the other characters are caught in someone else’s story for a time, and they have to find their own ways out. I think this one will resonate with confident readers, especially those who are ready for some fraught plotting and moral complexity.

Book source: review copy from author

Book information: Arthur Levine Books, 2017; middle grade fantasy

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Glimpse of Augusts past

With what is now over eleven years of blogging experience, it can be easy sometimes to write posts and then never think about them again. I’m planning to semi-regularly link to old blog posts in the month they were first published and thought I might as well start now.

2010

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

The Exiles by Hilary McKay

2012

Books of a Feather (three books I had mixed feelings about)

2013

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

2014

Two middle grade books from Filipino writers

Characters in exile (two books by Andrea K Höst)

2015

Books I’d assign for Worldbuilding 202

2016

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

Josephine Tey Reading Notes: The Daughter of Time

Josephine Tey Reading Notes: All the other ones

Josephine Tey Reading Notes: A Shilling for Candles

Favorite scifi from the last five years

Landscape and Character

“One the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope”: why I love Galadriel

(who were you, 2016 Maureen??)

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August 2017 releases I’m excited for

A quiet month, publishing-wise, but some books I’m really, really excited to read. Especially the new William Alexander & N.K. Jemisin titles!

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian

Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

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All the books I read in July

July was the worst reading month for me so far this year, with only 13 completed books. (Although I expect November, and maybe October will also be pretty slim.) It was a busy month on a number of levels, and I have to admit that several of the books I picked up didn’t do much for me. However, I am pretty pleased with the ones I did end up finishing.

My favorites this month were:

  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
  • Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens
  • Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee

At some point, I want to write a whole post about Tor.com’s novella line and how fascinating the different novellas are. I find that most of them I appreciate rather than loving, perhaps because for me the novella is a tough length. However, I absolutely loved Binti: Home, and thought Lightning in the Blood was a good follow up to Brennan’s first Varekai story.

My reading plans for August are a bit vague, but I’m hoping I’ll manage to either finish or set down some of the books that have been lingering on my to-read shelf. Right now, I’m just a bit into The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and cautiously liking it.

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White rabbiting my way through 2017

I am so behind on everything, especially blogging. I don’t want to write yet another post about all my blogging guilt, because it is what it is at this point. My previous schedule was getting hard to stick to even before last November, and a combination of happy personal events and horrifying political events have made reading and writing here more difficult.

My current intent is to try to have two posts a week up here, but–happy news alert!–I’m getting married in November, so we’ll see how long that intent holds up under the strain of wedding preparations. (Probably most of you have heard that news one way or another in a different venue, but anyway, yes! Here’s a photo.)

July has been a very quiet reading month for me, largely because my mom and fiance’ were both in town, but also because I’ve been in a bit of a slump. Last night I sat down and did some dedicated reading and it was pretty great!

Anyway, hopefully more here soon!

 

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Books I added to my To-Read list recently

 

Wimsey also enjoys books

I haven’t written this type of post with any regularity, but I thought it might be a fun glimpse into what I’m thinking about reading–though I’m not making any promises about when that will happen!

Making this list also led to the realization that a lot of my book recs come from the same people. With that in mind, I asked on Twitter for favorite inclusively feminist SFF critics & bloggers. I’d love to hear your favorites!

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

All the Real Indians Died Off by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Hunted by Megan Spooner

Race and Popular Fantasy Literature by Helen Young

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Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

It kind of seems like everyone has either already read this book or already intends to, but I still want to talk about it because WOW.

Actually, I’m going to instantly contradict myself and say that this book probably works best for a particular kind of reader, one who has a strong tolerance for gory stuff and a willingness to trust the narrative a bit. Lee throws us right into the world and the characters, and both are complicated and demanding. In particular, the system of magicky science, or sciencey magic, is confuddling at first.

However! I also think that all of the disclaimers about the difficulty of this book, my own included, probably make it sound more daunting than it needs to be. If you are a reasonably astute genre reader, who’s comfortable with worldbuilding and weirdness, this shouldn’t be necessarily a tricky read. I certainly didn’t find it easy, but neither did it make me so utterly confounded that I wanted to scream (unlike, say, Alan Garner’s Red Shift, another recent read).

And ultimately this ends up being a very rewarding story. The characters and world are complex and compelling–while most of the characters aren’t exactly likeable, they certainly command attention. The exception here is Cheris, the main character: thoughtful and kind and competent as well as out of her depth through most of the book. The fact that she’s not completely overshadowed by Jedao, the murderous ghost that she’s forced into, uh, let’s say partnership, with shows Lee’s ability to write different kinds of characters convincingly.

I don’t want to be spoilery, but I do want to talk a bit about what I found to be a very impressive trick, which may give some things away. So if you absolutely don’t want to know anything about the rest of the book, here’s the place to stop. (For what it’s worth, this is one I completely avoided spoilers for and was glad I did.)

Okay.

The thing is, Ninefox Gambit is all about trust and who we trust and who we don’t. And it’s also very much about Cheris’s relationship with Jedao–not an overtly romantic one, but incredibly, awfully intimate. Their dynamics as well as the world and the questions the story raises were so immersive that it’s not until I finished the book that I realized something. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the reading experience mirrored Cheris’s own arc with regard to Jedao in a fascinating and entirely disturbing way. That is quite a trick to pull off, but Lee managed it so smoothly that I didn’t even notice.

In short, this book has a lot to recommend itself, and I’ll absolutely be back for the sequel.

Yoon Ha Lee previously:

  • A short story collection, Conservation of Shadows, which I HIGHLY recommend if you liked Ninefox Gambit and want more before Raven Strategem is out.

Other reviews of Ninefox Gambit:

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