Books We Loved, Nov. 2018
Kate Morton, The Clockmaker’s Daughter (Atria Books, 2018)
It’s not often that I encounter a novel so densely and intricately plotted that it’s almost impossible to describe without giving away major elements of the story, but The Clockmaker’s Daughter is such a novel. It opens at a mid-nineteenth-century house party, held at the sprawling rural home of an upcoming and innovative artist, that ends in tragedy.
More than 150 years later, an archivist in London uncovers an old satchel containing one of the artist’s sketchbooks and a photograph of a mysterious woman. As the archivist works to find out who this woman was and how the sketchbook and photograph came into the archive’s possession, Kate Morton nimbly jumps backward and forward in time, weaving in the events that led up to and followed the house party until the whole story comes together in a riveting finale. Every time I thought, “I have to put this down and come back to it tomorrow,” I’d find myself reading just one more chapter.—CPL
Anthony Ryan, The Waking Fire (Ace, 2016)
The Draconis Memoria series—a brilliant, savage adventure that continues with The Legion of Flame (2017) and ends with The Empire of Ashes (2018)—is set in a world where drake (dragon) blood is a prized commodity, the basis of the trading fortune of the Ironship Syndicate.
Anthony Ryan has created a complicated world with various cultures: a decadent empire, complete with a doddering emperor, and a second continent in thrall to a powerful corporation. There are steaming jungles, barren mountains, and ice floes overlaying ocean-bed volcanoes. Lost cities of power make an appearance.
Though there are multiple points of view, as in most adult epic fiction, two main characters emerge as the most interesting, tying together the evolving narrative. Lizanne Lethridge is a ruthless Special Initiatives Agent, an employee of the Ironship Trading Syndicate with a taste for explosives and occasional dalliances. Clay Torcreek is an emotionally scarred young man, survivor of a slum called The Blinds. They’re both Blood-Blessed; humans that can ingest the blood of drakes and manifest superpowers. When Clay is forced to venture on a secret expedition to find the fabled White Drake, he and Lizanne are originally at odds. As the White Drake’s malevolent plans come to light, Lizanne and he find themselves working together.
While the chapter cliffhangers inject suspense, expect detailed paragraphs explaining the principle of a ship’s engine. Great for readers fascinated by warcraft and naval history, the series has enough action and political machinations for the rest of us.—GM
George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House, 2017)
Lincoln in the Bardo takes us to the Tibetan concept of limbo, that space between life and afterlife, in this beautifully supernatural story of Abraham Lincoln and his beloved son, Willie. In the first year of the Civil War, Willie has died and has been buried in the Georgetown cemetery. But the cemetery is populated with ... ghosts? beings? people not ready to transition?—and these amazing characters hold forth on their lives, their current condition, their fears of the beyond. Lincoln, despite his terrible grief, must contend with the intense pressures of his administration and the war that's tearing the nation apart. But he must let his son go, so he isn't stuck in the bardo with the current denizens for centuries.
This isn't a sad book. It's an adventurous, heartfelt, and eye-opening book, and the author weaves history, fantasy, and emotion together in an unforgettable way. Not to be missed.—CHL
Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire (Riverhead Books, 2017)
You may recall that the Antigone of Sophocles’ tragedy by the same name believes her brother deserves a proper burial and sets out to give him one, even though he is considered by others to be an enemy of the state. In her retelling of this ancient tale, Kamila Shamsie sets the scene in modern times and deals with modern attitudes to age-old complications arising from politics, racism, terrorism, and various forms of love.
The story concerns two families from Pakistan living in London. The father of one has an important position with the British government, and his desire to maintain it requires him to walk on eggs when it comes to his relations with fellow Muslims. The father in the other family was, before his death, a jihadist fighter who abandoned his wife and children, compelling his family to tread extremely carefully as well. When the son in the latter family is coerced into accepting a romanticized narrative about his father—a man he never even met—the two families come together in a tragic struggle to assert their loyalties at any cost.
Home Fire transports the reader directly into the heart of the conflict and abounds with intense moments of psychological suspense.—JS