The Power – Naomi Alderman

The Power - Naomi AldermanThis is an excellent example of speculative fiction. Imagine if young women acquire/discover a new physical power, an electrical discharge so by touch they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. This is the ultimate manifestation of girl power! Now imagine the impact of this fierce new female power on religion, politics and crime. This book takes us on an imaginative journey into an alternate reality with many elements that resonate in today’s world. Thanks to Chris/Amy for this recommendation.

An Ocean of Minutes – Thea Lim

An Ocean of Minutes - Thea LimThis Giller short-listed first novel is fabulous. The setting is 1980. To obtain medical treatment for her partner who has been stricken with a virulent flu, Polly agrees to time travel 12 years into the future to work for the TimeRaiser Corporation to rebuild America. So this is debt bondage, a form of indentured labour. The issue of time is considered in two ways: more time for her partner and time in the sense of memory. Will Polly be reunited with her partner Frank in 12 years, when he will have aged and she will not? The future is decidedly dystopian and so this book successfully melds several genres: what will you do to survive a pandemic, the dislocating effects of time travel forward and the return to your home, social issues of income inequality, the power of memory and the complexity of enduring love. This is just excellent story-telling.

Tess Of The Road – Rachel Hartman

Tess Of The Road - Rachel HartmanThis is a YA fantasy story set in medieval times with dragons, etc. Tess is a 17 year-old misfit, an obnoxious headstrong anarchist-in-training who invariably chooses to behave in a way that produces trouble and discord. Because of particularly scandalous behaviour, according to the norms of the day when women are supposed to lead constrained and subservient lives, Tess leaves on a journey of discovery, a pilgrimage of sorts. She is accompanied on part of this journey by a quigutl, a flightless sub-species of dragon (readers should consult the Glossary at the end of the book). Surprisingly, the story then becomes quite introspective about the nature of bad behaviour and finding one’s ash in the world, and thus more interesting than the average fantasy story. Overall, a very fun read.

A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic - V E SchwabThis is a terrific fantasy novel, set in London in 1819. Except that there are 4 versions of London, completely different worlds so multiple parallel universes. A small number of magicians can travel between the different Londons, but there is black magic and tragedy. Full disclosure, there is a significant kill count with collateral damage to some very sympathetic characters (the kindly innkeeper, for example), so this is not Harry Potter magic. Best of all, there is a great character called Lila, a feisty pick-pocket and wannabe pirate. This is a very imaginative and enjoyable read that is often philosophical; thanks Amy for this recommendation.

Arcadia – Iain Pears

Arcadia - Iain PearsThis is a wonderfully imaginative novel that represents a superb example of speculative fiction, with both time travel and travel to a parallel universe. The parallel universe is created from a writer’s imagination so there are allusions to CS Lewis, Tolkien and Shakespeare (a central character is a young woman called Rosalind who disguises herself as a boy while living in a forest!). All the characters are memorable and the story telling is complex because of multiple time periods – a very enjoyable read.

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian - Elizabeth KostovaThis fascinating book has a Dan Brown-like plot (but with much better writing). Academics search for clues to find missing persons and to research Vlad Dracula’s life (is he still living?). This research is conducted in medieval libraries (yay!) with much travel: Oxford, Istanbul, Budapest and Bulgaria. Actions happen in three times: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, often with parallel stories so the complex plot with much historical detail requires the full attention of readers. This is a really enjoyable read; thanks Steph, for this recommendation.