Welcome to one of our new spangly 2017 recurring features! Every month I’m going to be talking about a book (or books) that I read and loved and then will be giving recommendations based off those titles. This is something I do pretty much every day in my other career as a bookseller.
These recommendations will be, by and large, science fiction, fantasy or some level of fantastical. Huge surprise, right?
So let’s kick this off!
This month, I could not decide between two titles. In our end of year awards, the Moosies, I already talked about Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening. It was hands down, one of my favorite pieces of print I read this year and I’ve come back and reread it multiple times at this point. It was an easy choice for my first round recommendation.
And then I read Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti and suddenly could not decide between the two.
So I decided to do both!
Monstress is a graphic novel with a visual style that bridges Eastern and Western artistic styles and the result is staggeringly beautiful. Sana Takeda’s work is perfection both in style, color and movement and the art deco and steampunk influences of the art give Monstress a distinct and impactful visual style. The writing is an equal to the art. Liu has worked in the comic book industry for a long time and has written extensively for Marvel. Her experience shows in Monstress which reads like a thick fantasy novel it imparts so much character development, worldbuilding and plot on each and every page.
The story follows Maika Halfwolf, an Arcanic. Half human and half Ancient (an immortal race of anthropomorphic animals), she is hated and hunted by humans as she herself hunts for the answers to the mysteries of her past against the backdrop of an ongoing war between humans, Arcanics and Ancients. There are also cats, who are their own influential and powerful race in the world, which in and of itself was a massive selling point for me! Because: Kitties. Need I say anything else?
Equally beautiful, Equally impactful: Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti.
A novella that follows the titular character who is the first of her people, the Himba, to be accepted to the prestigious on a galactic level Oomza University. The narrative follows her journey from the home she’s never left, across the stars to the University. Along the way she encounters the Meduse, a alien race long in conflict with humans and the world of Oomza and must use every scrap of knowledge – both that of the Himba and the University – in order to survive.
Okorafor is masterly with words. Binti is only ninety pages long but every page counts. The lot moves fast but never feels rushed. Binti is a character with wonderful depth and nuance but her development is woven intricately through the plot so it never feels like the story is halting to tell you who she is. The world which Binti inhabits is wonderfully fleshed and Okarofor succeeds in that extremely difficult science fiction endeavor: creating aliens that are truly alien. The Meduse are excellently done and it is their different physical form, their alien culture and the bridge of understanding that must be formed that makes them, and Binti itself, so fascinating a read.
I read Binti in a single sitting and have already been rereading my favorite passages. This is a little book with a huge impact. It’s focused and skillfully crafted science fiction that is one-hundred percent deserving of the Hugo and Nebula awards it won this past year.
So those are the two books. If you have already read Monstress or Binti, or are now planning to read them, and need some ideas for similar reading material, allow me to provide you with some ideas!
One of the things I enjoyed immensely about both of these books is that they are short enough to read in one or two sittings but pack a hefty narrative punch, excellent worlds and interesting characters. They are deeply satisfying reads that do not take up a lot of time.
So if you’re short on time but want some more excellent stories?
Try The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. Wilson is an excellent writer and the novella size of this story is comparable to Binti.
Or pick up Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older. A collection of beautiful and diverse short stories featuring authors like Tananarive Due and Sofia Samatar that provides a short reading time depending on how many stories you wish to read back to back. Another good short story complilation full of wonderful writers you should pick up? Give Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling a whirl!
Also look into Nnedi Okorafor’s wonderful body of work, including Akata Witch, Who Fears Death and Lagoon as well as Marjorie Liu’s other comic book work, including X-23, Black Widow and Astonishing X-Men.
Single issues of what will eventually be Monstress Vol. 2 are currently available from Image Comics and the sequel to Binti, Binti: Home is set for release on January 31st from Tor!