Archive for the ‘Alternate History Fiction’ Category

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

June 3, 2021

[Tricia]

I’ve been on a bit of a historical fantasy kick lately, which is a genre I love because you get the wonderful time and place perspective of historical fiction, plus magic! Add a touch of police procedural to the mix and you get this extremely enjoyable new novel, which takes us to Cairo, Egypt in 1912. In this alternate history, the world is still reeling from the fact that the gates to the magical realm were suddenly thrown open by the mysterious al-Jahiz about 50 years earlier, and now Djinn and other magical creatures live among humans. Tensions start running high when someone claiming to be al-Jahiz returns to Cairo, causing chaos in the city. When murders begin to occur, Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, is called in to investigate. Fatma is a wonderful character, brilliant, a little battle-weary, and a spiffy dresser in fancy suits and bowler hats. She teams up with her new partner, Agent Hadia, who is fresh out of the academy and eager to impress, and Fatma’s girlfriend Siti, to tackle the mystery. The book weaves themes of colonialism, racism, sexism, class struggle and sexuality into this extremely engaging, enjoyable novel. It’s the first in a series and I will definitely be reading more from this author!

You can find A Master of Djinn at the Library.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

November 4, 2020

Both Tricia and Patti recommend this book. Here are both of their reviews:

Tricia: There was really no way I wasn’t going to like this book. It contains so many elements that appeal to me – folk tales and witchcraft, the women’s suffrage movement, complicated sister relationships. It takes place in an alternate version of the U.S. in the late 1800s in New Salem, where witchcraft has been seemingly, and brutally, stamped out. But there are rustlings of magic in the air surrounding the emerging fight for women’s suffrage, in the battles of Labor Union organizers, and in the struggle for the rights of Black people. However, when Juniper Eastwood, the youngest of three estranged sisters, arrives in New Salem, that underground magic is suddenly thrust out in the open with potentially catastrophic consequences. This was exactly the book I needed right now – it drew me in immediately and kept me engaged, the characters are interesting and appealing. A great choice for fans of Naomi Novik and Alice Hoffman. The ebook is available on Libby/Overdrive and you can find the book at the Library.

Patti: A very entertaining and magical book about very strong and powerful women. Harrow has taken common fairy tales and twisted them into witchy spells, which the three main characters use to regain and add rights for women.

The Once and Future Witches

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

June 11, 2018

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[Lesley] Perfect story within a story — It’s as if the story inside the book that is inside the book is describing a society that is in the author’s (the fictional author!) imagination, or his theory. Then, once his book has ended and we return to the correspondence between him & Naomi, his reader, we are shifted yet again. The parts of the book that Naomi finds unrealistic or unbelievable or unsupported by facts, are just the ones that we accept without question. [and – wow – the uses of the name “Naomi” in this book is genius.]

In places this seems like a somewhat simple allegory for our times. When women have the power (literal and figurative) they mirror the men who have always been seen as corrupted by it. Violence, anger, and revenge are not the sole purview of males; an eye for an eye seems inevitable once power for one side is absolute. Parts of the book read like a critique of violent cultures and the misuse of weapons. There are plenty of characters who make this “allegory” less straightforward though. Tunde, frightened out of his teenage existence by an early experience with a young woman who has the power, becomes an embedded recorder of events — we think (and he thinks) his dispatches are enlightening the wider society. Jocelyn, daughter of the mayor-turned-governor, has inexplicable variability in her power – a weakness that her mother tries to hide. Then there are Allie and Roxy – two women, strong in both the same and different ways, who weave and create the story as two sides of the same coin.

The illustrations of “archaeological” (fictional) figures and relics add an interesting layer of theoretical support for the story that unfolds. Is it all proof that this story, this power, is real? Or is it proof that society has not always been this way? History is told by the victors – what if the culture we are in was completely opposite once upon a time?

Check Library Catalog for availability

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

November 4, 2016

[Lesley]  Colson Whitehead is a crazy good writer. He writes stories so realistically, so seemingly true to life (past or present), but with the slightest surprising twists that change everything. This book tells the story of a slave girl/woman named Cora left behind as a child when her mother fled the plantation and who later becomes a fugitive herself, traveling via the Underground Railroad. This isn’t the exact Underground Railroad in our history books, however, and the places and communities she spends time in aren’t exactly what you would expect either. Telling the story slant doesn’t alter the “truth” of the fugitive slave experience – instead it intensifies it somehow.   Also recommended: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Find it on Libby/Overdrive

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