Tag Archives: Jane Yolen

The SF Bluestocking 2017 Fall Reading List

It’s that time again, where I grossly/awesomely overestimate the number of books and other things I’ll be able to read in the next three months, plus include a few things I almost certainly won’t get around to reading but that I still think other folks should read and tell me about.

One thing you may notice right off is that I’m not really reading YA any longer. I’m sure it’s a temporary thing, but I just haven’t gotten into any of the YA releases that were on my radar this year, so in the interest of not stressing myself out when I fail to get around to them, I’m just not even including them. It’s just been so long since I’ve really wanted to read anything YA, and there’s so much other great stuff coming out over the next three months (well, the next couple months, since December is an especially sparse time for SFF releases this year) that I just haven’t even been paying much attention to what’s coming out for teens.

The rest of 2017 is pretty heavily front-loaded with new releases. with eight titles I’m excited about coming out just on October 3 and several more Tuesdays in October and November with two to five releases. However, there’s nothing on my calendar past December 5, so I expect to be doing a lot of catching up on things that month, since on average I’m reading just a couple books a week and there’s a lot of stuff I’m excited about this fall.

Tor.com Publishing

I’ve, kind of necessarily, relaxed my stance on reading every single Tor.com release over the last few months, skipping a couple of titles that didn’t appeal to me or that were part of series that I haven’t begun yet, but the next couple months are full of books that I’m looking forward to.

  • The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson – 10/3
  • A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell – 10/10
    I’ve loved both of Paul Cornell’s previous Lychford novellas. The first, in particular, was a great seasonally appropriate read around this time a couple years ago, and I’m making sure to save this one for a crisp evening with a blanket a nice hot cup of tea or several.
  • Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders – 10/17
    I’ve read All the Birds in the Sky and enjoyed some of Anders’ other short fiction (her story in the John Joseph Adams anthology, Cosmic Powers, was fantastic), so I’m pretty hyped for this collection, each story of which is totally new to me.
  • Weaver’s Lament by Emma Newman – 10/17
    The sequel to Brother’s Ruin, which was a charming gaslamp fantasy.
  • Switchback by Melissa F. Olson – 10/24
  • The Sisters of the Crescent Empress by Leena Likitalo – 11/7
    I already read an advance copy this book right after I read The Five Daughters of the Moon, and it’s a beautiful conclusion the the duology.
  • Gluttony Bay by Matt Wallace – 11/7
    I’m certain that this penultimate Sin du Jour novella is going to be delicious.
  • Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska – 11/14
    I haven’t been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of this title, but it’s probably the Tor.com release I’m most looking forward to this fall aside from Gluttony Bay. Certainly, it’s the most ambitious and unique sounding thing on their schedule in the next three months.
  • Starfire: Shadow Sun Seven by Spencer Ellsworth – 11/28
    Spencer Ellsworth’s Starfire trilogy is exactly the sort of high energy retro space opera adventures I want to be reading these days. Highly recommend.
Anthologies and Collections
  • Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Lucas K. Law and Derwin Mak – 10/8
    I will have a review of this anthology and possibly an interview with the editors coming out prior to its release date, but I’ll say here that you definitely want to read this book. Plus, a portion of the proceeds from its sales benefits Kids Help Phone, a Canadian counselling hotline for children.
  • The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen
    A collection of retold classics and fairy tales from a great author.
  • Mad Hatters & March Hares edited by Ellen Datlow
    An anthology of stories inspired by Wonderland.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty – 10/3
I’ve been watching Caitlin Doughty’s YouTube channel (Ask a Mortician) for years, and I loved her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory. I’ve also been following her work with the death acceptance organization The Order of the Good Death for years, so I am super excited to read this new book about death traditions from cultures around the world.

  • The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera – 10/3
  • Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor – 10/3
    The long-awaited sequel to Okorafor’s 2011 YA novel, Akata Witch.
  • The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehenat Khan – 10/3
  • Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng – 10/3
    Early reviews of this gothic fantasy seem promising.
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – 10/3
  • Star Wars From a Certain Point of View – 10/3
    40 popular authors (seriously, all my current faves are in here) telling 40 stories from the points of view of 40 different minor characters in the Star Wars Universe. It’s gonna be awesome.
  • The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear – 10/10
    The start of a new epic fantasy series in the same world as her Eternal Sky trilogy.
  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman – 10/19
    The first in a new prequel/sequel trilogy set in the world of His Dark Materials.
  • The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 10/24
  • The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso – 10/24
  • Magic of Wind and Mist by Cassandra Rose Clarke – 10/24
    An omnibus reprint of a duology.
  • Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns – 10/31
    This book had me at “lesbian space pirates.”
  • Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines – 11/7
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee – 11/7
  • Artemis by Andy Weir – 11/14
  • The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – 11/14
  • Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer – 11/14
  • Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers – 11/14
  • Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier – 11/21
  • Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – 12/5
    Benjanun Sriduangkaew still needs to put out a collection of her short fiction, but I guess a queer take on the Snow Queen in novella form will have to do. (I’m so excited.)
  • The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer – 12/5
    The Terra Ignota series continues.
  • A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall – 12/5
  • Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey – 12/5
    I mean, I still need to finish reading all the previous books, but I’m still looking forward to this one.

Book Review: Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen

Somehow, I’ve never gotten around to reading much by Jane Yolen, so I was excited to see this title pop up on NetGalley prior to its rerelease (with new and striking cover art) as an ebook. Sadly, it was just okay. First published in 1988, Sister Light, Sister Dark has aged fairly well, all things considered, but like many feminist fantasy works of the ‘80s, it tends towards second-wave gender essentialism and a sort of pseudo-pagan sensibility. There’s nothing particularly offensive or terribly problematic about it, really, but it’s a subgenre that has just been done to death and has a definite sameness to similar work that will almost certainly make it feel dated and derivative to modern readers. It’s also a book that has some definite love-it-or-hate-it qualities.

The most obviously polarizing aspect of the book happens to also be pretty much its central conceit. It’s not just a straightforward story. Instead, it’s told in a mix of ways—with section headings like History, Myth, Legend, and Parable—so that it’s almost an epistolary novel. I loved this, myself, and thought that it worked well to provide multiple avenues for involving the main story’s themes as well as adding a meta dimension through which to explore bigger ideas about history, storytelling and mythmaking. There are times where parts of the story are repeated, however, and moments where the musings and speculations of the imagined historians are tiresome. If you enjoy the conceit and “get it” it’s nicely done, but if you prefer to just read the main narrative with no interruptions you might resent the breaks in the tale and the shifting perspectives on the story.

Though I in general like the multimedia-ish formatting of the story, I could have done without the Song parts. For some reason, lots of fantasy authors fancy themselves poets as well, and the truth is that they mostly ought to just stay in their lane. I know that poetry is a common feature of fantasy of this book’s age, but it’s just never very good and the poetry here is no different. It’s sophomoric at best and distracts from rather than adds to the story.

Perhaps one of the biggest draws for feminist readers may be that this is a novel that is full of female characters. It’s even touted in the marketing copy that it’s a world with no men, though this isn’t strictly true. There are plenty of men; it’s just the rather narrow world of the main protagonists that is made up of villages of matriarchal, mother-worshipping women. Unfortunately, Jane Yolen doesn’t actually have all that much to really say about gender. Her women-only towns have a more or less utopian maiden-mother-crone hierarchy that isn’t very compelling, and the patriarchal cities and armies that they encounter are, frankly, just too expected to be at all interesting.

Even the individual characters are just alright. Jenna is a pretty archetypal Chosen One, which means that her backstory is the most interesting thing about her. Though the book is largely about looking at what it means for a girl to grow up with the weight of her community’s expectations, fears and doubts on her, the examination of these themes through Jenna’s character is ultimately shallow. By the end of the book, Jenna seems to have conformed to or lived up to the prophecy that she’s supposed to be the fulfillment of, but the story as told in this book stops short of her actually doing anything very momentous.

Jenna’s relationships with others are as one-dimensional as she is. She has no mother, being thrice-orphaned, and her relationships with mother figures aren’t very important. Her friendship with Pynt is a significant part of the story, but both girls are immature and selfish to start with and the relationship is easily dumped towards the end of the story in favor of the suggestion of Jenna having a romance and a grand destiny in the future instead—not to mention that Pynt is essentially replaced when Jenna calls forth her dark sister, Skada. Her antagonistic relationship with the head priestess of her village has potential, but the priestess is more a caricature of petty small-mindedness than anything else.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the book for me, however, is this whole dark sister concept. I want to love the idea, but it just didn’t work for me, mostly because it’s talked up through the whole book but when Jenna actually gets her sister nothing much happens. Instead, Skada is just sort of there, without anything of importance to do. I fully expected the dark sister thing to be a way of exploring the characters’ dual natures or of personifying the idea that people are often of two minds about things, but that’s not the case. It ends up just being a piece of window dressing that is never utilized to its full potential, which is a shame.

All the same, I think I would have loved this if I’d found it twenty years ago. Today, though, it just doesn’t hold up that well, even if the new cover art is gorgeous.

This review was based upon a free copy of the title received from the publisher through NetGalley.