I haven’t posted here in a while, mostly because I’ve been touring like a madman for PARTIALS. Thanks to everyone who,s come to see me, and for everyone else, don’t forget that there’s still plenty of touring to come. I have a signing in Ogden, UT this Friday, the SLC Nerd part this Saturday, the World Horror Conference next week, and another Dark Days tour in April. All the info’s in my calendar on the left.
All this time traveling has given me the chance to read a ton, and today I want to recommend two of the books I loved the most. VODNIK by Bryce Moore is one of the best YA fantasies I’ve read in ages, and THE MIRAGE by Matt Ruff might be one the best books I’ve read in any category, ever.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from VODNIK; it’s a YA urban fantasy based on Slovakian folk tales, yes, but what does that even mean? I don’t know anything about Slovakian folk tales. Well, let me tell you what it means:
1) VODNIK has a unique and quirky group of monsters, and a “magic system” you haven’t seen anywhere else. In a market horribly oversaturated with the same old vampires and werewolves and fairies and whatnot, VODNIK shows us elemental spirits, a sea monster, an agent of Death, and of course the vodnik himself–a cheerful, friendly little killer who drowns people and stores their souls in teacups, not because he’s evil but because that’s how he is. He’s goofy, neurotic, helpful, deceptive, and deadly, and the most interesting urban fantasy villain I’ve read in ages.
2) VODNIK is about a clash of cultures. I’ve never lived in Slovakia, but I have lived outside of the US, and VODNIK captures perfectly the stages of culture shock, fascination, acceptance, and love that comes from discovering a new country. There’s a scene partway through where the main character sees a group of Americans after already becoming accustomed to Slovakia, and his unsettled reaction feels very real. This book made me want to visit the country.
3) VODNIK takes this culture clash, and the classic YA search for identity, and ramps them up with a full-on exploration of racism. The main character has some Roma (gypsy) heritage, which never mattered in the US, but becomes a very big deal in Slovakia, and this out-of-nowhere plunge into racism really opens his (and the readers’) eyes. More importantly, the author handles the topic expertly, explaining how the characters’ lives change because of it, and how they learn from it. I was honestly very surprised by this facet of the novel, expecting little more than the simple surface story about the magic creatures, but the Roma plot gave it a depth and power that really brought it all together.
4) VODNIK is actually funny. I’ve read so much YA that thinks it’s funny but isn’t, and even worse, YA that tries to use pop culture references and fails horribly. Nothing’s worse than an author trying way to hard to seem clever and cool. The author of VODNIK pulls it off almost effortlessly.
I loved VODNIK, honestly much more than I expected to. It’s well-written, unique, and clever. It’s a breath of fresh air in a very popular genre, andI can’t wait to see what Moore gives us next.
Holy crap. Here’s the quick pitch: this book is about the War on Terror, but in a mirror universe where the United Arab States is the world superpower, and America is group of feuding, sectarian mini-nations. On 11/9 a group of Christian terrorist crash airplanes into the World Trade Center in Baghdad, and that brief description completely sold me on the book. It’s an ambitious, treacherous, wildly subversive idea that Ruff pulls off with incredible aplomb, showing what is essentially a police procedural about Baghdadi Homeland Security agents tracking down terrorists, and frankly that by itself would have been enough for a great book, but THE MIRAGE takes it to the next level. See, in the course of their investigation the HS agents find a newspaper from our world, describing the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, and suddenly this fascinating thought experiment becomes a full blown interdimensional fantasy.
I can’t imagine what a gamble it must have felt like to write this book, walking a vicious tightrope between clever and offensive, real and imaginary, political charged and completely bipartisan. Reading it certainly gives you that tightrope thrill, alternately holding your breath and laughing in delight at each new crazy reversal of the “truth.” Osama Bin Laden is a senator of questionable character; Al Qaeda is a branch of the secret police; Saddam Hussein is a Capone-style mobster; the Gulf War is fought in the Mexican Gulf, as the United Arab States led a Coalition to protect the oil-rich nation of Texan from the invading American army and its power-mad dictator LBJ. Even the agents of the CIA, when we finally meet them, are shockingly appropriate for a nation of Christian extremists. As a fan of audacious ideas, I found something to applaud on nearly every page.
As with VODNIK, though, what really keeps THE MIRAGE grounded are the very real, very human characters at the center, dealing with personal issues both larger and smaller than the world-spanning mayhem they fight against in their jobs. The story and the setting are wonderful, but it’s the characters that make you care.
If you love good books, you’ll love these two. Go out and get them NOW.