All right, I’m a little late in the game since December is almost upon us, but I couldn’t let the year end without recommending some of the new releases I’ve read in the last few months. Whether you’re in the mood for a fast-paced tale of wolves and adventure for young readers, a genre-bending fantasy romp, a historical novel that will immerse you in the ancient world, or a diary chronicling a literary life within both the theater and academia, I hope you’ll find something to beguile you during the long winter nights to come.
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: someone who takes in wolves that have been living in captivity and fits them for life in the wild again. In this brief novel set in pre-Revolutionary Russia, young Feo’s world is turned upside down when angry soldiers command her mother to stop “wilding” the wolves that are hunting down the Tsar’s game. I loved the parts of the book that dealt with Feo and the wolves, but was not so enamored with the rather muddled chase sequences and the improbable, violent resolution. I’ll definitely be looking for more by Rundell, though; I like her way of turning a phrase and her perceptive eye on the natural world.
August 25, 2015 from Simon and Schuster
Find The Wolf Wilder at Powell’s City of Books
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
I was not as enchanted by this Regency-era fantasy as many other reviewers, but I did enjoy it on the whole. It’s extremely difficult to do something original in this genre by now without undue strain, but Cho’s contribution does bring something new to the party with the titular sorcerer, a former slave who’s been vaulted by circumstance into the highest magical post of the realm. Even more fun is the apprentice who forces himself upon him, a mixed-race orphan who’s trying to escape from a life of drudgery and unfold her magical powers (which as a mere female she’s supposed to keep strictly under wraps). In spite of the appealing verve and energy of the writing, there were some derivative echoes of Temeraire and Strange & Norrell, and times when the author’s narrative skills didn’t keep pace with her ideas. I hope that as she matures as a writer we may find the sequels an improvement.
• September 1, 2015 from Ace
Sorcerer to the Crown at Powell’s City of Books
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
An acclaimed historical novelist gives us yet another beautifully told story drawn from history and legend, this one based around the Biblical figure of King David. She grounds and humanizes the myth in vividly imagined portraits of the people who surrounded David, making her central character the prophet Natan. As Natan strives to understand and reconcile his own perceptions and memories of David’s conflicted nature, other voices also come to life, most memorably the women whose lives were touched and sometimes broken by David’s powerful divine mission. As these fell away in the latter part of the book, I found that it lost focus somewhat, but I was still absorbed in the rich, complex portrayal of a man with a destiny that was sometimes greater than he could bear.
• October 6, 2015 from Viking
The Secret Chord at Powell’s City of Books
A Celtic Temperament: Robertson Davies as Diarist, edited by Jennifer Surridge and Ramsay Derry
And for something completely different, here’s the latest posthumous publication from one of my all time favorite novelists and essayists, the Canadian literary magus Robertson Davies. Davies was a voluminous diarist who kept multiple journals of his private and working life, and to publish them all would be a massive task (an online version is in the works). In this volume the editors have selected and interleaved about half of his output for the years 1959 to 1963. This was an important period of his life that included both a major failure — his play “Love and Libel” flopped in New York — and a significant new step — his appointment as Master of the new Massey College of the University of Toronto, and his involvement in its founding and construction. As opposed to the retrospective view of a memoirist or autobiographer, the diarist doesn’t know what is coming next in his story, and this gives it an immediacy that is very engaging. Though I was personally more interested in the theater portions of the diary than in the details of college funding and furnishing, I still read it from cover to cover with great appreciation for this glimpse into the life of one of the most intellectually stimulating writers I know.
• October 6, 2015 from McClelland and Stewart
An advance reading copy of The Secret Chord and a finished copy of A Celtic Temperament were received from the publishers for review consideration. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.