Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.
Please give a warm welcome to R.J., folks!
REAL BOOK RECS FOR IMAGINARY PEOPLE
by R.J. Anderson
As an author who learned a lot about craft from writing fan fiction, and who still considers herself a massive geek and fangirl at heart, it seemed only natural to combine my bookish and fannish interests into one Smugglivus post. So I’ve taken some of my favorite TV characters from the past twelve months, and matched them up with four of the best books I read in 2013 — books I really think they’d enjoy reading if they weren’t fictional characters. Which means that if you love any or all of the following imaginary people, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy the books I’ve picked out for them. Or if you’ve already read and loved the books, perhaps you’ll discover some new shows to check out instead…
The Eighth Doctor: Box of Red Brocade by Catherine Fisher
When I first heard there was a new Doctor Who 50th anniversary episode prequel, I was completely unspoiled for which Doctor was in it. So when that husky rum-and-butter voice said, “I’m a Doctor… but probably not the one you were expecting,” and the camera panned over to you-know-Who, I let out a shriek and nearly fell off my treadmill. I’ve adored Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor ever since his lone on-screen appearance in that terrible Fox TV movie back in 1996, and seeing him again was the happiest surprise of my whole TV-watching year.
So what better way to celebrate my love for a great but often-overlooked Doctor, than to match him with a similarly fine but under-promoted book?
Box of Red Brocade is the second book in the Chronoptika series, and the sequel to 2012’s The Obsidian Mirror. It features a twisty, multilayered plot, characters with the weight of the past (and the future) on their shoulders, a crumbling English manor in a forest full of malevolent fae — and deep in the house’s cellars, a mysterious time-travelling device that everyone wants but no one fully understands. It’s not quite an episode of Classic Who, but it’s certainly up a similar imaginative alley. Author Catherine Fisher (Incarceron, the Relic Master series) has a knack for blending fantasy and science fiction into a lyrical whole, as well as creating flawed but dynamic characters whose conflicting agendas up the stakes and tension with every chapter. Their relationships are a fascinating tangle of old passions, grudging affections, hidden resentments and fierce loyalties, but there’s barely a hint of conventional romance. Which makes it a good pick for older MG as well as teen readers — or, perhaps, an 800-plus-year-old Time Lord who’s not above a celebratory kiss or two, but has a lot more than flirting on his mind…
Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills: The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
In an alternate US history where magic is real, a protagonist who can see witches ends up working for the local police department, and gets pulled into an adventure that risks his life and soul. That could be a rough description of the TV show Sleepy Hollow, but it’s also the story of Sasha, the young hero of The Inquisitor’s Apprentice. Like Ichabod Crane, Sasha is stalked by a shadowy, malevolent figure conjured up by powerful forces; also like Ichabod, Sasha lives in a world where religion and magic are intertwined. And just as Ichabod teams up with the tough, resourceful Abbie Mills to fight the coming apocalypse, Sasha ends up working with a strong-minded young woman named Lily to investigate a magical conspiracy.
Sure, The Inquisitor’s Apprentice is a middle grade novel. But coming from an era without such petty genre distinctions, Ichabod would probably appreciate the story on its own merits — and the book’s rich evocation of New York City in the early 1900’s, with all its social and cultural diversity, would appeal to his historian’s sensibilities. Of course, he’d need Abbie to straighten him out on a few points of real vs. fictional history, but what else is new? And I think Abbie would also identify and sympathize with Sasha, because she knows what it’s like to grow up poor, to have to fight prejudice to prove yourself, and to live with a secret you don’t dare to tell.
(I’d also like to give Ichabod and Abbie a copy of the actual book of Revelation-without-an-“s”, since it seems to be somewhat different from the one in Ichabod’s New George Washington Bible. But that’s another story.)
Joan Watson: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
Any Holmes worth the name would no doubt consider fiction a fanciful waste of brain-attic space, and Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock on Elementary is no exception. But I could see Joan Watson relaxing with a good novel on a quiet evening in the brownstone, and Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird would be just the ticket. It’s the story of a sensitive but reserved young art dealer drawn into an unexpected mystery, as she traces the origins of a dying woman’s prized heirloom back to the 1700’s and the days of Russia’s Empress Catherine. The story alternates between historical and modern-day events, both equally compelling and rich in evocative detail — and the slow-building romance has just the right amount of spark and simmer without derailing the plot. Joan may well regret staying up late to finish it when Sherlock barges in early the next morning and drops Clyde the tortoise on her pillow, but that won’t keep her from zipping up her ankle boots and marching out to buy the companion novels post-haste.
(The companions are The Shadowy Horses, an archaeological mystery in Scotland which was written first and features the romantic lead of Firebird as a young boy, and The Winter Sea, which includes certain characters also connected to the historical events of Firebird. But each of the books stands perfectly well on its own, so Joan could read them in any order.)
Jinora: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow
The book-loving granddaughter of Avatar Aang and a key player in this season’s Legend of Korra, Jinora has a strong connection to the spirit realm. She’s unusually poised for a eleven-year-old and doesn’t scare easily, which makes me think she’d be a perfect match for author-poet Erin Bow’s gorgeous, haunting YA fantasy novel, Sorrow’s Knot.
Alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, Sorrow’s Knot is the story of Otter, a young woman growing into power and finding her place in the world. Her deep and life-altering friendships with Kestrel and Cricket, a girl in Ranger training and a boy who wants to be their tribe’s next Storyteller, would remind Jinora both of her own close-knit family and the bond of loyalty between the teenaged Avatar Korra and her friends. And just as Jinora trains with her father to become a skilled Airbender, so Otter expects to follow her mother Willow as an apprentice Binder, learning to protect their people against the hungry spirits of the dead. But Willow’s growing madness drives a dark wedge between her and her daughter, denying Otter her rightful place in the tribe and putting their whole village in danger. And when the worst happens, Otter — like Avatar Korra and Jinora herself — must find a way to control the spirits and save her world from destruction.
Sorrow’s Knot is definitely YA, dark and earthy and more than a little frightening. But after all the harrowing adventures Jinora’s been through in her own spirit realm, I don’t think any of that would faze her. And the book’s lyrical writing, winsome characterization and narrative depth makes it the kind of story Jinora could savour and read again and again.
What about you? What 2013 books (or books you first read in 2013) would you recommend to your own favorite fictional characters?
Thank you, R.J.!