These three tales are epic in every sense but never lose sight of the characters at their heart.
★ She Who Became the Sun
The best historical fantasies bring an all-new beauty and mystery to familiar things. Shelly Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun spins a tale based on the founding of China’s Ming dynasty that reads like Mulan crossed with The Once and Future King. In a poverty-stricken village, a girl fights to stay alive. Her brother is supposedly destined for greatness, but she has never been more than an afterthought. After bandits raid her family’s house and she is the only one left alive, she makes a desperate choice. Cloaking herself in her late brother’s name, Zhu Chongba, she conceals her gender and joins a nearby monastery. While there, Zhu learns how to survive, even as the Mongol hordes march on China. Parker-Chan’s gorgeous writing accompanies a vibrantly rendered world full of imperfect, fascinating characters. With every turn of the page, the book offers a new set piece, a new revelation, a new horror. Readers who loved the equally excellent Poppy War trilogy by R.F. Kuang will be right at home here. If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, you can’t miss this one.
★ Shards of Earth
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shards of Earth is one of the most stunning space operas I’ve read this year. Fifty years ago, a man named Idris saved humanity from the Architects, enormous planet-size aliens capable of destroying anything in their path. Now, even as he navigates the galaxy’s backwaters on the junky salvage ship Vulture God, Idris can feel something in the depths of space. When he and his crew make a discovery that could upend the fragile peace among scattered human factions, they must choose who to trust before the Architects return to finish what they started. Tchaikovsky’s world building is on glorious display as he throws all manner of spaceships, creepy aliens and strange technology into a delicious sci-fi soup. It’s dense, it’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s touching and it’s perfect for someone looking for a space opera built on a grand scale.
I like to think I have my own preferences nailed down, and then a totally original book like Violette Malan’s The Godstone comes along and thoroughly delights and surprises me. Fenra Lowens is a Practitioner of magic who serves as healer for the residents of a small rural village. When Fenra’s longtime patient Arlyn Albainil receives a summons to the City to receive the valuable contents of a long-lost relative’s vault, Fenra volunteers to accompany Arlyn on his journey. But Arlyn is more than he seems, and he knows more than he tells. Inside the vault is an object of immense power, and he’s the only one who knows how to stop it from destroying the world. There’s a confident briskness to Malan’s pacing; nothing seems to drag over The Godstone’s 300 or so pages. The momentum is only aided by the superb dialogue throughout. Fenra and Arlyn’s banter is so pleasant, so assured, that it at times reads like classic English literature. Readers would be wise to pick up this exciting start to a new fantasy series.