Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey

Hunter Book Cover Hunter
Hunter #1
Mercedes Lackey
Dystopian, young adult
Disney Hyperion
Sep 1 2015

Centuries ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were slashed open allowing hideous fantastical monsters to wreak havoc; destroying entire cities in their wake. Now, people must live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the evil creatures constantly trying to break in. Only the corps of teen Hunters with lightning reflexes and magical abilities can protect the populace from the daily attacks.

Joyeaux Charmand is a mountain girl from a close knit village who comes to the big city to join the Hunters. Joy thinks she is only there to perform her civic duty and protect the capitol Cits, or civilians, but as cameras follow her every move, she soon learns that the more successful she is in her hunts, the more famous she becomes.

With millions of fans watching her on reality TV, Joy begins to realize that Apex is not all it seems. She is forced to question everything she grew up believing about the legendary Hunters and the very world she lives in. Soon she finds that her fame may be part of a deep conspiracy that threatens to upend the protective structure built to keep dark magic out. The monsters are getting in and it is up to Joy to find out why.

The reality TV future isn't a Hunger games specific idea. I mean, I just have to say this before I move on, because it irks me when someone claims a book is like another book because they both draw on the same cultural phenomenon - in this particular case I'll just point to instagram, snapchat, youtube channels and so on. It's not a huge leap of imagination from "Gosh, we sure do voluntarily offer a ton of information about ourselves in places where we get likes and followers"   to - you know - "Well, so, maybe a future, like, where those ratings and followers matter a lot..."

Okay.  That said,  you're going to see people talking about Mercedes Lackey's Hunter like it's the Hunger Games with patronus spells!

No... well, yes, but no.

I enjoyed reading this book.  Joyeaux Charmander is a very pleasant protagonist. She's smart and thoughtful, and her competence comes from a good amount of training, for the most part. She's also pretty special, but her special features wouldn't necessarily matter if she didn't have the wit and grace to handle it.

She lives in a world that has somewhat rebuilt itself after something terrible happened - it wasn't the apocalypse, the religious communities will have you know, so they call it the diseray instead.  It was a long time ago, and it was so bad it tore a hole through the world, and othersiders found a way in.  Along with magic.   Now, some humans - not many, but some - are born with certain talents;  Joy is a Hunter, one who controls hounds from the otherside, to protect the community. She gets to know a dude who is a psimon, which is exactly what it sounds like - a mind-reader, a telepath.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the emphasis on friendships rather than, uh, the stormy romances often found in the genre.  Tied to this is some very clear and brusque commentary on religion, especially Christianity.  I was a bit surprised - I never expect to find those matters liberally discussed in (American) books for younger audiences.  It was an opening for several philosophical conversations between Joy and other characters,  which I appreciate, though it did occasionally get a bit heavy-handed.

My biggest complaint about Hunter is one I often have, lately - it's a series starter that leaves a lot of questions unanswered.  It's not as bad as many others - Hunter has a good ending with decent closure, just not quite enough to make me forget I was expecting to find out about a handful of other things, too.

Do I recommend the book? Sometimes you just need a good slightly-unrealistically-flawless heroine who kicks butt in a nicely built world with many interesting sights to see.  Y'know.  This is that book.  It's that book for those of us who are really quite happy when the protagonist simply acknowledges oops, hormones, and gets on with her day without cringeworthy entanglements.   So, yeah! This is a thumbs up.

Falling in love with hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in love with hominids Book Cover Falling in love with hominids
Nalo Hopkinson
Fantasy, speculative fiction, short stories
August 11 2015

Nalo Hopkinson's Falling in love with hominids adds more evidence to the "Short story collections can be fantastic things!"-pile.   Everything, every story, is flabberghasting. Or bamboozling. Or, y'know, awesome.

It starts with creepy-strange The Easthound.  Can you imagine Octavia Butler setting out to write a Stephen King horror? Or... um... the other way around?  And they were both having a bit of a John Wyndham moment? It's still not an adequate description of what Nalo Hopkinson does here, but attempting to describe it that way might tell you something.

Maybe progressive, inclusive fantasy is what you're thirsting for? There's not one, but several, thriving same-sex relationships in here, protagonists who speak to each other in pidgin English, startling religion, girls claiming ownership of themselves. It's not forced - it's just what naturally grows out of this, uh, this sparkling greenhouse. Yeah, that's right. I said it. Sparkling greenhouse.  There's a review for you.

Message in a bottle is one of the most stunning time-traveller tales I've ever read.  It sounds like a very standard genre trope when described that way, but, I assure you, there's nothing standard about this one.

Many of the stories zoom in on age transitions, especially puberty.  No wonder - living inside a body that changes independent of your own volition or control, sometimes so violently it seems like the difference is visible from one day to the next - what's more alien and fantastic than that? ...At least, that's how Nalo Hopkinson makes me think about it.  Something much, much more magical than just sulking and painting one's bedroom black. (Yes, I did.  No, I have no idea why black walls were important to me at the time.)

Questions are asked, such as: What do you do, exactly, when an elephant appears in your very small apartment, far above ground?

And - there's A raggy dog, a shaggy dog, a story that taught me quite a few things about orchids.  This particular type of orchid is going to haunt me for a long, long time.

It's kind of funny how haunting is an incredibly positive term when talking about fiction, right? (I have one shelf on GR called simply 'haunters', though I only set it up to see what recommendations would be generated from two - indeed, haunting - novels.)  And in a relatively small collection of short stories, finding more than one or two haunters  is highly unexpected.

...And here I found at least three of them.

I absolutely recommend this collection. To any speculative fiction reader when in the mood for organic-magic rather than chilly space.  Though if you're in  a chilly space, this might be the best possible heat blanket.  Well, except for an actual blanket. You understand me.

The contrary tale of the butterfly girl, by Ishbelle Bee

The contrary tale of the butterfly girl Book Cover The contrary tale of the butterfly girl
The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq. #2
Ishbelle Bee
Angry robot
August 4 2015

A dark and twisted Victorian melodrama, like Alice in Wonderland goes to Hell, from the author of The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath.
Two orphans, Pedrock and Boo Boo, are sent to live in the sinister village of Darkwound. There they meet and befriend the magical and dangerous Mr Loveheart and his neighbour, Professor Hummingbird, a recluse who collects rare butterflies. Little do they know that Professor Hummingbird has attracted the wrath of a demon named Mr Angelcakes.
One night, Mr Angelcakes visits Boo Boo and carves a butterfly onto her back. Boo Boo starts to metamorphose into a butterfly/human hybrid, and is kidnapped by Professor Hummingbird. When Mr Loveheart attempts to rescue her with the aid of Detective White and Constable Walnut, they too are turned into butterflies.
Caught between Professor Hummingbird and the demon Angelcakes, Loveheart finds himself entangled in a web much wider and darker than he could have imagined, and a plot that leads him right to the Prime Minister and even Queen Victoria herself …


You want a novel in which very nearly every single character is the mad hatter? A very generous sprinkling of utterances in all caps lock? Oh, and how about murder? Because you can have it. You can have a lot of murder.

Murders none of the characters seem very concerned by - not even our acquaintances from the previous book,  detective White and constable Walnut.   You'll also recognise Mr Loveheart.

(He has acquired a somewhat overweight cat.)

There are many hearts, and many butterflies, and a great many wives floating around in this tale.

I'll be honest with you - this kind of writing doesn't really do it for me.  It's a lot of frills and not much else.  I know there are plenty of people out there who'd absolutely love to read the kind of story I've described here, though.

There is kind of a plot - I mean, a sequence of events connected to each other and an ending - which makes this book, The contrary tale of the butterfly girl, superior to many other stories of the same ilk,  but it's still not quite enough for those of us who just aren't pure style-readers.

I actually think this might be more enjoyable as an audio production, letting each of the (many) insane characters and their inner thoughts come to life with croaky voices, exaggerated accents, theatrical monologues, shouting, crying, and so on.  A little music, you know, the "creepy carousel" kind of stuff.  Echoing and "head sliced off with an axe"-sound effects and such.

I would like that better than I liked reading it, probably. I feel kind of bad that I don't have more enthusiasm to bring to the table, but, uh, preferences! They're personal and sometimes in the way of things.