VenCo – Cherie Dimaline

This new book by Ms. Dimaline just gets better and better, moving from YA to adult fiction. Imagine a young Metis woman on a search for a spoon to reassemble a coven of 7 witches. Imagine that a deliciously evil male Benanmanti witch hunter pursues her with deadly intent. This is a subversive feminist story that is exciting and compulsively readable, mixing danger with humour. Highly recommended. By the way, the title is an anagram for coven!

The Atlas Six – Olivie Blake

Six powerful magicians are recruited to the secret Alexandrian Society and given the unique opportunity to become even more powerful. What is fascinating in this truly imaginative book is not what they can do, but their personalities and psychologies. They are willing to compete for a place in the Society (only 5/6 will “graduate”) so there is suspicion and meanness but also fear and apprehension. Think ambition in a magical library. What is the cost of their actions? The book’s subtitle is “Knowledge is carnage”, after all. Highly recommended.

The Atlas Paradox – Olivie Blake

The sequel to the Atlas Six. Five magicians, now members of the secretive Alexandrian Society, continue to study and learn. Can the library archives be sentient if some knowledge is withheld? As magicians become even more powerful, can they become gods? The price of power requires a choice, to pick a side. The intersection of dreams and time becomes an important factor in the apparent disappearance of one of the magicians. Overall, a very compelling story.

Babel – R. F.Kuang

This is an imaginative work of historical and speculative fiction. The context is all important: Oxford in the 1830s where scholars (professors and students) work in the Royal Institute of Translation, in an academic tower known as Babel. Is there power in words, in etymology? Words lost in translation can be added to silver bars to create magic: protective wards and the casting of spells. Academics can also serve colonialism; can change ever occur peaceably, or does profound change encompass the necessity of violence? What is striking in this book is the role of indecision and questionable motives. Highly recommended.

A Marvellous Light – Freya Marske

Imagine you ae a civil servant in Edwardian London (1908) and are suddenly and unexpectedly assigned to a new position in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints, where your role is to be a liaison to magicians. What a wonderful premise for a first novel about a muggle learning that magic exists. And there is a cracking good mystery about a lost document, curses and spells, and even an enchanted malevolent maze! Overall, very entertaining.

The Book of Magic – Alice Hoffman

The first sentence of this fabulous books reads: “Some stories begin at the beginning and others begin at the end, but all the best stories begin in a library”. What’s not to love? This novel is Ms. Hoffman’s final book about magic, specifically witchery, aka the nameless art (previous books: Practical Magic, Rules of Magic, and Magic Lessons). Three generations of Owens women fight to break a 300-year-old curse, but the story is ultimately about love and sacrifice.

The Hidden Palace – Helene Wecker

A sequel to Ms. Wecker’s fabulous The Golem and the Jinni. Part of the charm of the story is the place, New York City from 1910-15, with tenements and factory fires and a Hebrew orphanage. Characters form the first book (Ahmad, Chava, Sophie) are supplemented by a tempestuous female jinni, Dima, in Syria, and Kreindel, an orphan with her own golem. Relationships are volatile; this is a historical epic story.

We Ride Upon Sticks – Quan Barry

It is 1989, and a high school field hockey team (10 females, 1 male) in Danvers Massachusetts is driven to win the state championship. Can witchcraft help in this quest, particularly since Danvers is near to Salem, the site of the witch trials and burnings in 1692? This is a brilliant depiction of friendship in the context of high school and team sports. Teenage culture in 1989 is presented perfectly; music, hormones – sex drugs and rock-n-roll. Great fun.

The Centaur’s Wife – Amanda Leduc

Heather has just given birth to twin daughters when a meteor shower destroys much of the world. So, on one hand, this is a post-apocalyptic survival story. How do you cope: with optimism (if we work together, we will survive) or pessimism (we are going to starve and die)? But there is a second key element in this book, that the nearby mountain has supernatural power, ground magic, and yes, that centaurs exist on the mountain. Fairy tales are interspersed with a stark realty. This is a compelling fable for our uncertain time.