It’s hard to believe, but August has crept around again. 2021 ends in less than half a year. Summer might be my favorite season, but every August, I’m ready to fast forward to October and the holiday season. This past month, I returned to reading fantasy novels. In high school, YA fantasy series were my go-to reads (An Ember in the Ashes, Legend, Shadow and Bone, The Maze Runner books, anyone?). The fantasy genre can feel harrowing for readers, what with all the glorious maps, languages, magic systems, and ongoing cliffhangers. Luckily, I’m recommending three accessible fantasy novels: A fantasy/sci-fi anthology collection, the first book in a trilogy, and a stand-alone adult book.
If fantasy isn’t your jam, scroll down to the final two contemporary books on this list. Escape into a mystical world this August with this edition of Katie’s Book Corner! All titles here are available through most local libraries, digitally through Kindle, or physically at your favorite bookshop.
The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu
Genre: Adult Fantasy / Science Fiction / Anthology
Page Count: 253
(CW: Death, Murder, Violence, Gore)
Comic fans; imagine I’m wildly swinging this book around in front of your face screaming, “Do you know who wrote this? Marjorie Liu! Yes, that Marjorie Liu!” In reality, I am shy and would never be so bold. But my sentiment remains: Acclaimed Monstress comic writer Marjorie Liu compiled and edited a collection of old short stories in this gorgeous anthology. The Tangleroot Palace: Stories bears a cover illustrated by Sana Takeda, artist of Monstress. If you’ve read Monstress at all, you’ll recognize Liu’s sapphic, gory, sensual, magic-infused storytelling immediately.
Fantasy stories starring strong women seem to be Liu’s forte in this anthology like “Sympathy for the Bones,” “The Briar and the Rose,” and the eponymous “The Tangleroot Palace.” Sci-fi sentiments occur intriguingly in the tall tale about a man who literally wants to become Superman villain, Lex Luthor, in “The Last Dignity of Man.”
The Tangleroot Palace: Stories ripples with riveting characters, lore, and profundity. Each prose piece is self-contained and relatively short for individuals who don’t want to spend hours reading a single story. Although, “The Tangleroot Palace” is a full-length novella. Still, be prepared for the formidable desire to devour multiple stories in one sitting. See what lush horrors are gnashing their teeth through these pages. When you’re finished, go read Monstress (because everyone should read Monstress).
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Page Count: 585
(CW: Violence, Gore, Death, Homophobia, Execution, Forced Drug Use, Misogyny)
Joining the recent ranks of fantasy tales inspired by and set in India, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri kicks off the Burning Kingdoms trilogy. Transport yourself into a world where misogynistic, power-hungry men rule, but feminist, kickass women attempt to wrench control away from these narcissists. The Jasmine Throne opens on a horrifying ritual: The sacrificial “purification” of women. Princess Malini refuses to stand beside her sisters as their burning flesh melts away in front of the solemn nation of Paraijatdvipa. Thus, her dictator brother takes the throne. He vilifies and imprisons Malini in a temple known for once containing magical waters for her remaining days.
Meanwhile, Priya, a simple maidservant in the palace once purified by the temples’ magic-imbuing deathless waters, fights for the conquered nation of Ahiranya. A rot is spreading through Ahiranya, and Priya remains nearly powerless to stop its murderous infection alone. Princess Malini, weakened by drugging in her captivity, accidentally discovers Priya’s powers. Then, their fates intertwine, and they plan to burn the empire — and its male rulers — down, together.
The Jasmine Throne clocks in at nearly 600 pages, but each word casts an invigorating spell on readers. Tasha Suri’s prose weaves a surreal story of women and their battle for autonomy. At the novel’s midpoint, a slight lull and “insta-love” romance does impede the narrative flow, but you’ll be starstruck as Malini and Priya’s love story propels the high-stakes action. If you prefer an Indian fantasy book in the YA genre, try the stellar Princess and the Pea retelling, Sisters of the Snake.
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
Genre: Adult Fantasy / Jewish Fiction
Page Count: 432
(CW: Genocide, Murder, Death, Gore, Torture, Self Harm, Abuse, Child Abuse, Animal Death, Amputation, Antisemitism)
Lately, I’ve noticed an influx of recent book releases with the word “Wolf” in the title. The Wolf and the Woodsman may be one of those novels, but this adult fantasy roots itself in dark themes beyond a love story or Red Riding Hood retelling.
Ava Reid sends readers on a gritty journey with protagonist Évike. Isolated and rebuked, due to her lack of visceral powers and tainted bloodline, Évike feels outcast within her pagan village nestled in the forest. In the city, the tyrannical king requires advantages if he is to gain the upper hand against the warring kingdoms. He sends his bodyguard entourage, the Woodsman, to collect a seer from the women residing in Évike’s village. However, they send the powerless Évike in place of a true seer along with the barbarous woodsman. Évike must fight for survival and ally with the mysterious Woodsman leader after attacks and the kingdoms’ bloodthirsty prince plans an uprising.
Written by a Jewish author, The Wolf and the Woodsman presents themes about the atrocities of genocide and violence involved in any facet of nation-building. Reid’s poetic language does not mask the horrific topics inside this book. Instead, it works to juxtapose good with evil, purity of heart with self-righteous intentions, and roles of the oppressor versus the oppressed. Descriptions of torture, abuse, and ethnic cleansing sharply pierce through the novel’s lilting prose like thorns adorning a rose. Reading The Wolf and the Woodsman promises an uptick in intellectual acuity.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Music Fiction
Page Count: 368
(CW: Death, Trauma, Racism, Racial Slurs, White Supremacy, Abuse, Infidelity)
If you’ve never read an interview style oral history novel, start with The Final Revival of Opal & Nev. Author Dawnie Walton tells a fictional story about a ’70s rock duo who never existed. Written from the perspective of a magazine editor-in-chief with an intent to pen a tell-all book about music sensations Opal Jewel and Nev Charles, Opal & Nev compiles fictional interviews and editor’s interludes.
Aural Magazine editor Sunny Shelton is the daughter of the drummer Opal Jewel had a brief affair with in the ’70s. With an Opal and Nev reunion tour quickly approaching, Sunny seeks out biographical information from Opal, Nev, and their interconnected circle to complete her book in tandem with the tour. Through these interviews, Sunny learns how white British musician Nev came to form a dazzling Afro-Punk duo with Black Southern woman Opal. Surprisingly, Sunny gains more information than she bargained for — facts containing the ability to uproot the tour, Opal and Nevs’ relationship, and Sunny’s book deal.
The oral history format may initially pose stylistic challenges in Opal & Nev, but ultimately lulls you into a sense of reading a real biography or watching a documentary. Parts of the book show characters digressing for long periods of time, but I urge you to follow through the slow areas. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev boasts charismatic and distinct voices throughout. Additionally, the novel scathingly critiques topics such as racism, emotional abuse in the music industry, and the dangers of nostalgia for the glamorized ’70s music scene.
Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood by Danny Trejo
Genre: Autobiography / Memoir
Page Count: 276
(CW: Prison, Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, Infidelity, Gangs, Sex, Rape, Violence, Murder, Gore)
Who watched Spy Kids dozens of times growing up in the 2000’s? Oh, not just me? If you’ve even once seen the gem that is Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids, you’re aware of Danny Trejo. More specifically, Spy Kids (2001) first introduced readers to the Cortez siblings’ Uncle Machete. Conceptualized by Rodriguez long before Spy Kids, Trejo and the movie director decided on softly establishing Trejo’s “Machete” character in the children’s film. Nearly ten years later, the same Machete character slashed his way onto the big screen in a rated-R movie duology. But who was Danny Trejo before he became the infamous Machete? What is the life story behind the actor who has been murdered more times on screen than any other actor in history?
For the first time, actor, sobriety counselor, owner of Trejo’s Tacos, and former prison inmate Danny Trejo recounts incidents during his past in his memoir, Trejo. Employing a tone of self-reflection, Trejo describes life as a drug dealer, heroin addict, and inmate in multiple California prisons. Trejo depicts his lowest points in unflinching, raw detail to the point you can physically feel the extent of his pain and regret. Yet, Danny Trejo is a success story. Finding a personal view of religion aided Trejo’s darkened spirit, helping him overcome his acquired ideals of misogynistic “machismo” and propensity for violence. Redemption reigns in Trejo’s memoir. Once a drug-addicted young man looking to spend the rest of his days locked up inside the horrendous prison system, Trejo unclamped his own shackles, now helping guide troubled youth onto their own path of redemption.
Danny Trejo reclaims his life, authentically baring his soul to readers. Trejo fosters heuristic thinking for any reader. In Trejo, Danny Trejo proves how tragedy and fixed mindsets from the past aren’t necessary when defining your future.
Concluding this column each month always poses difficulties for me, because I could talk about and recommend books for an infinite amount of words! I leave you with my heart poured into this text on your screen to make your own judgements about whether these novels pique your interest. If you feel like none of these titles make you want to dip your toes in the tide-drenched summer sand, I am prepared to volley an arsenal of other novels in your direction via Twitter. Stay hydrated, and stay reading.