I’ve been talking about that fantasy journey/road trip story with a bit of romance that I’m constantly looking for, and I’ve found a new one!
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher is just the thing. It reads like a fairy tale retelling, but it’s an original story (at least, I don’t recognize any particular fairy tales). A princess realizes that her older sister who was married to the prince of a neighboring kingdom in order to create an alliance and prevent a war is being abused by her husband, and since his family is under magical protection, it will take magic to do anything about him. So, she sets out to save her sister, doing the usual impossible tasks to get supernatural help, and then she and an unlikely team, including a witch, a disgraced swordsman, a demon-possessed chicken, an enchanted dog made of bones, and a ditzy godmother, set out on a journey to the neighboring kingdom to see what they can do about that evil prince.
We have the journey, the personal growth of the main character, the subtly developing romance, magic, adventure, and lots of good snark and humor. It does get a little macabre and doesn’t shy away from the horror of what’s happening with the sister, but it’s ultimately an uplifting story. It’s also short. I read it in a couple of sittings and was sad when it was over.
For another book recommendation, I also recently read Babel by R.F. Kuang. I think fans of my Rebels series might like this because it’s along similar lines, an alternate history about the British Empire using magic to maintain power and about the student secret organization rebelling against the empire. The story is set early in the Victorian era in Oxford, where foreign-born students have been recruited to the program that uses translation and language for magic. Magic is done using words from different languages that have similar but not exactly the same meaning, which means they need people who have native fluency in both languages. At first, these students are thrilled to be a part of Oxford life, but then they start to realize what’s really going on and how this magic is being used and have to figure out what to do about it.
This is a book that creeps under your skin, where you start seeing the story as one way, and then have your perspective shifted. There’s the idyllic student life and then the growing awareness of the real situation. I found the book utterly engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s written a lot like a history book, complete with footnotes.
A lot of my reading recently has been later books in series I’ve already discussed or else books I don’t really care to discuss, and then I suddenly had two good ones back to back.