Amari and the Night Brothers, by B. B. Alston

Some books reshape their genre. Others expand it to include a wider range of voices. Some do both. I often like books that do the first. I believe we as a society and community need books that do the second. For examples of books that reshape their genres, I’d offer up The Ballad Of Black Tom and The Fifth Season. For books that expand their genre, those two still work… but I can also add A Dead Djinn In Cairo, and now B. B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers.

Amari and the Night Brothers feels like another step in the same chain as A Dead Djinn In Cairo. It doesn’t, in my eyes, revolutionize the underlying components of the genre (yet), but it’s solid and has a refreshingly different perspective from the usual run of Middle Grade supernatural school protagonists. Amari—the main character—is black (as is B. B. Alston) and in a genre so dominated by white writers and white characters that’s pretty dramatic. It feels sad to say that’s enough, but I think it’s true.

As I said, this book didn’t fundamentally change or subvert anything I expected from the genre. I was able to plot out the tropes and most of the twists pretty well beforehand. But it’s good. Those tropes I saw coming felt right, and their resolutions felt rewarding. This story does everything I’d want a solid book in the MG supernatural school genre to do (with allowance for a little bit of deus ex machina), and it does it with heart and with a different set of assumptions about the world than so many other stories I’ve seen and read. That’s what I love and admire about it, why I’d recommend it.

And unlike A Dead Djinn In Cairo, I’ve seen enough of B. B. Alston’s work here to believe that there are other interesting things coming down the pipe, ways in which this story is going to grow, and tell its story differently. Amari and the Night Brothers already had my interest standing on its own. And I look forward to seeing what new paths B. B. Alston adds to this well-trodden genre.

Anger Magic, Quick Setting Exploration

I hinted at this setting idea over a year ago, but… what would a world where anger is a route to magic look like?

How closely tied are those things? Does someone who is angry automatically have access to magic, or is that something that takes more special effort? Is there something about “only some people” etc?

For my personal interest, I want any anger to potentially lead to magic. And I want the magic that comes from that to often be dangerous & uncontrolled.

But… why then would children not cause lots of deaths? Is there something about coming of age or being older? A sufficient concentration of some environmental toxin / mineral / chemical? If it’s that, why wouldn’t fetuses concentrate the already present material in the womb?

Perhaps it’s gradual tissue damage from exposure to an external source of radiation… like, the sun, or a weird alien moon. Probably thinking about WFRP here, and Morrslieb.

Let’s say that anger becomes a reliable route to magic around puberty. That means that most communities, knowing the danger posed by anger-driven magical effects, would work hard to make sure that anger was avoided like the plague. Children would be taught to not give themselves over to anger, to prevent terrible things from happening as they grew older.

This wouldn’t be healthy. Mostly because I’m not interested in it being a healthy way of mitigating anger, but also because I don’t think pathologically avoiding anger for fear of something awful happening is actually good for anyone. This could even create moments when people—consumed by terror—do terrible things to stop someone who looks like they’re getting angry, like murder in self-defense when you know someone else has a gun… grotesque, understandable, awful, socially accepted.

So if the general population avoids anger and wants nothing to do with anger-magic, where would magic users come from? Where would they come in? Who would bother to train any new generations of magic users?

Oh, oh my. What if a person was known as a great and powerful wizard because they had once been utterly furious and were known for flying into a powerful rage at the drop of a hat? And what if, these days, they had resolved the fury which had once driven them? Perhaps they would want to see the world be different, so that people didn’t kill or hurt each other out of fear of someone being angry?

I like the character, an older magician who is no longer able to tap at will into the magic which made them so well known, feared, and respected… but who still performs the role in hopes of changing the world. They might seek to teach and train younger magic users to be able to think through their anger and channel it (anger and magic both) into more productive ends.

I don’t know if this person would be the central character for anything longer than a short story or piece of flash fic, but they feel worth exploring.

All the Plagues of Hell, by Flint and Freer

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A little context: I’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the Heirs of Alexandria series, and I read All the Plagues of Hell right after reading a much worse book in a different series (which shall remain unnamed).

I thought All the Plagues of Hell was quite good.

There were a few elements to it that frustrated me, which I’ll detail later, but for the most part I had a great time with it. Better yet, it provided an exceptionally good counterpoint to Continue reading

Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone

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I’ve seen Max Gladstone in person several times now, at Pandemonium Games and at Arisia, and I’ve enjoyed hearing him speak… and now I’ve finally read one of his books (besides the wonderful stuff he has on Serial Box). I’m glad to say that Continue reading

Castle in the Air, by Diana Wynne Jones

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At least this cover doesn’t make me want to devote another 500 words to critiquing it.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Diana Wynne Jones cribbed from Disney’s 1992 Aladdin, but Castle in the Air came out first (in 1990). Perhaps more strangely, I haven’t found anything about the making of Aladdin that confirms that they were inspired by Castle in the Air… but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some cross pollination.

As with Howl’s Moving Castle, perhaps even more so, this is a book that I want Continue reading

Wandering thoughts: Rare Earth Elements, Climate Change, and Fantasy Settings

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I had some grim thoughts about the future of our civilization today, and turned them into a fantastical exploration of alternate worlds… because that’s how my brain works, I guess. Join my escapade, and learn a little bit about Rare Earth Elements, modern technology, and climate change while you’re at it.

Rare Earth Elements are fundamental to Continue reading

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

 

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Howl’s Moving Castle is an excellent book. I’m indebted to my friend for recommending it to me; I knew the book existed, and I already loved the Miyazaki film, but it was her mention of it that finally pushed me over the edge.

Now that I’ve read it, I have to say that Diana Wynne Jones Continue reading

Flora Segunda, by Ysabeau S. Wilce

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I have to say, I rather enjoyed this book. It’s not without its oddities (failings in some cases), but dang. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to read so many other books that I’ve liked less, but I really liked this one.

It’s worth knowing that there’s some real weirdness to what’s going on in the setting, if you spend much time looking at it and trying to explain it in relation to our world. For example, I’m not sure why so many people are described as blond / red-haired, despite apparently being in close contact with a maybe-Aztec country. The geography is almost certainly what we think of as California, but the history certainly isn’t. The truth is, we aren’t told enough about the history of this setting (in this book) for me to be able to say much more. Maybe there’s a good reason for all of this.

All I know is that it felt weird reading about a bunch of people in a magical quasi-California, none of whom seemed to be non-white. It helped when I consciously separated everything from our own world, despite the similarities, but that can’t solve everything.

Setting that aside, I had a good time. Strange and distinct magic, jam-packed with events and adventure and obvious future plot hooks, fun characters, a believable recent history if you’re willing to accept the overall premise… it’s good stuff. Potentially complicated by other factors, but good stuff.

Also, it somehow straddles the weird space between middle grade and young adult in a way that I really appreciated. It’s more or less where I’d like Barium Deep to be, though not in exactly the same way.

End of Semester Delays

My posting won’t go back to normal for the next two weeks, I think. I’m too distracted by the things I have to finish for my last two sets of classes.

On the up side, I have had a chance to look at lots of books recently, and I have a few to recommend.

Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is a fun story in an awesome fantasy setting. My only reservations revolve around how it follows a bunch of romance genre conventions in a way that I find a little less appealing. This isn’t because I have something against good romance work — I love Bujold’s romance stories — but because I don’t like the dynamic between the two romance leads as much as I like the rest of the story. And to be clear, most of the story isn’t very heavy on the romance. But it is definitely there.

Hmm, that sounds less like the recommendation I thought I was writing and more like a warning. It’s a fun book, and I *do* recommend it. It has an Eastern European setting with witches and magic and Baba Yaga type stuff! What more could you want? I rather enjoyed it.

And, on the picturebook front, I strongly encourage you to look at Water Is Water, published last year. It is gorgeous. It has so much detail and setting layered into each image. As a Vermonter, it gave me little nostalgic quivers. It’s worth reading.

The March North, by Graydon Saunders

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I’ve been telling my housemate Books to read this ever since I started the series back in March. They haven’t listened to me, much to their detriment. You have a chance to do better by yourself and read this book. And if you have any appreciation for feminism, transhumanism, powerfully egalitarian worlds, entirely in-character narration, and a series that finally recognizes just how screwed up a world with horrifyingly powerful wizards would be, then you totally should read it.

To give you a little perspective, I’ve now read all three books in the series so far. I started in March. I’ve been overly busy with school for the past two weeks, to the point of feeling like tearing out my hair, and I read the third book in only a few days during that time anyway. This is good stuff. The delivery is dense, and you may have to work to keep up every so often, but it’s quite exceptionally good.

I’ll admit, the first book might not be for everyone. If you can’t enjoy military fantasy, it might not be your cup of tea. The next few have their idiosyncrasies too: I didn’t expect to have so much fun reading about people moving huge piles of dirt. But those idiosyncrasies are a mostly transparent patina on top of stories about self-discovery, formulation of identity, and choice. You may find other themes buried in here that speak to you as well (I know I did). Regardless of any lack of physical similarity, the characters in these stories are deeply human, people who are wonderful to discover.

The March North, A Succession of Bad Days, and Safely You Deliver are for sale through Google Books.