I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy - starting with Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, the first book of the Folk of Air series, and following that up with Naomi Novik’s novel Uprooted.
I've read The Cruel Prince at least twice since getting hold of it last year in January 2018 and honestly, it’s Holly Black at her best. Which I truly did not think I would say after The Curse Workers series (very cool magic system in a modern day setting which includes crime families, dysfunctional families, tortured brooding protagonist, immensely satisfying female characters) as I just didn’t like the novels that came after as much. What I’ve always enjoyed about Black is her ability to write about protagonists who come from extremely dysfunctional and unsavoury backgrounds (a lot of the save-the-day plots involve being light-fingered and/or conning everyone they love around them). Her protagonists are also reasonably moral; they’re usually terrified reluctant heroes who still have excellent motivations for attempting to save everything falling to pieces around them. She develops her side characters well and you actually understand the stakes of dropping everything and running away instead of trying to fix things.
Whilst most of Black’s stories take place in modern-day settings, The Cruel Prince actually happens in Faerieland. The prologue is already terrifying and sets up so much of the characters; one day a man enters Jude’s home and murders her parents, then takes her and her sisters to live with him. The man turns out to be a faerie named Madoc (a bloodthirsty redcap who is also the general of the Faerie King’s armies to be precise), who her mother was previously married to, but left. If you can call burning down his estate and leaving the burnt corpse of a pregnant woman in its charred ruins ‘left’. Jude and her sisters grow up in Faerieland, and because her parents’ murderer/now-foster father is a Very Important Faerie she grows up amongst the gentry and attends classes with them and is constantly snubbed and belittled, and occasionally tortured. I highly recommend it. Also I was rereading it this time because the second book of the series, The Wicked King, is now out and will hopefully be delivered in my mailbox by the end of the month.
After Neil Gaiman, Holly Black is probably my favourite writer and if I ever get around to setting up a list of #writinggoals it would be based on her work. Her portfolio is so extensive and she has written SO MUCH in the last fifteen years; she has done The Spiderwick Chronicles (five-part series of children’s books), The Good Neighbours Series (comics), The Modern Faerie Tales (Young Adult, and my first introduction to urban fantasy), and is currently writing the current Lucifer graphic novels. She also shares great writing advice and resources here.
I purchased Naomi Novik’s novel Spinning Silver after reading Straits Times’ journalist Olivia Ho’s review (sidenote do check out her supercool Instagram which combines my two loves: books and beautiful clothing) where she basically declared Novik as her favourite high fantasy writer. I love the book so much that I had to get Novik’s only other standalone book; I might just get started on Temeraire series next.
Also the stakes in Uprooted felt real throughout. A lot of character death happens at one point so you’re really unsure which one of your favourite ones would actually make it out alive. I also really appreciate the Eastern European influences in these novels! Most fairytales borrow from the Western European tradition so it’s always nice to read about different settings and monsters.
Both novels feature female protagonists who battle all sorts of unearthly forces to save things greater than themselves; Family, Home, Identity - and throughout they’re dealing with so much fear. They’re still very different though; Jude from The Cruel Prince has learnt to be vicious and hard and her path to victory meant being as cruel and heartless as the fae around her. I’m really looking forward to Book II as it’s about how much she more has to bear in order to maintain her power and victory.
Agniesza, throughout Uprooted, sees violence and throws up, runs away, and eventually, commits it when necessary, but her victory comes about only because she wants to see an end to suffering. I really recommend both novels because they’re very different portraits of female strength, and both are still protagonists who grow into their own.
Also! I have found out that Novik, besides being an amazing writer, also started up Organisation for Transformative Works, and played a huge role in getting Archive of Your Own (AO3) set up. For non-fanfiction readers, this is a site that was basically set up when websites like LiveJournal, DeviantArt, Fanfiction.net were all going through weird purges or becoming more commercialised. Fanfiction writers tend to be female, and members of the community basically banded together to set the site up and create a platform that is fan-run. There was a fantastic Tumblr thread going around at one point about how the AO3, for the first time, made the reader accountable for what they chose to read rather than make it easy for anyone to report and take down content because they found it offensive; something that was done on previous platforms whenever people didn’t like smutty content that their children might end up reading. I cannot find the Tumblr thread but you can check out this link for further academic research on how the site was a glorious move set out by female writers who were trying to carve out a space for themselves on the interwebs without getting it taken down.
I’m going to be going through all my other Holly Black books whilst waiting for Bookdepository to get back to me; meanwhile I am severely regretting not waiting a couple of days after the release date and just getting it from Kinokuniya. I suspect my writing in the near future is going to be strongly influenced by all these fantasy elements. But then, I haven’t really been writing anything, and these blogposts are part of my attempts to prod myself to at least write something every once in a while.