Crows, security robots, seas made of spores, and a subspecies of dragon called a quigutl. Yes, dear friends. You’re in for a whole lot of good this quarter. If you need any reading material, I’ll keep you going for a while. My goal was to read 24 books by the end of this year — that’s one each month, in case you hate math as much as I do. Reason being, I wasn’t feeling like reading much at all for a while and didn’t think I could manage much more than that.
Well, it’s March, and I have read twenty-six books this year already. My mind is a liar, apparently.
Buckle up. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. This has been one of the most fun reading quarters of my life. (I reserve the right to say that every year at least 1-4 times.) You’re gonna wanna check some of these titles out.
- The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (fantasy)
If last year’s new favourite was V.E. Schwab, this year’s new favourite may not be quite as well known, but she writes with equal conviction. Margaret Owen snuck into my reads with Little Thieves in 2022, which I enjoyed quite a bit, but that was nothing compared to her other series that I picked up this year. Beginning with a flurry of wings, ending with a burst of feathers, The Merciful Crow flew me to new heights of awe. The worldbuilding built into a 12-caste system based on aviary counterparts was fascinating enough on its own, but paired with main character and Crow chief in training, Fi, a couple of unruly lordlings all too unaware of their privileges, and a dark and fiery journey to save Fi’s people from extermination at the hands of their rulers, you’ve got yourself a real winner. And the sequel, The Faithless Hawk measured up just as well.
- Babel by R.F. Kuang (dark academia, fantasy)
Hello, alternate history, dark academia, and fantasy all wrapped up into one monster of a tome. Did I mention white supremacy, colonialism, and the ruthless expansion of the British Empire in the mid-1800s? Well. There you go. Babel by R.F. Kuang is as gripping as it is heart-wrenching. For every page I remained enthralled, there was another that left me heartbroken. I cannot recommend it highly enough. A note for my white friends: This may not be an easy read for some of us. But if we want to learn and are willing to listen, it will definitely be a powerful and meaningful one. If you’re not convinced, here’s a banger quote that might just get to you like it did to me: “Robin found it incredible, how this country, whose citizens prided themselves so much on being better than the rest of the world, could not make it through an afternoon tea without borrowed goods.”
- Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy, sci-fi)
Tress made me feel exposed — my secrets, poached from my life and recorded with someone else’s name, someone else’s face … someone else’s pen. It’s why I knew I had to read it when Sanderson first launched his secret projects like a madman. (No shade. It’s just, who even writes that much?) The point is, I am Tress, Tress is me. Her hobby — collecting cups — is basically the same as my obsession with tea. And her contentedness with her home, her family, and her quiet life at the beginning of the story — her utter disinterest in adventure — resonated so strongly, I had to see where it took her. Because what’s a book without an adventure of some kind? Sail the seas of spores alongside Tress, a talking rat, and a band of pirates as this adventure-averse girl sets out to find Charlie, the boy she loves, who was given up to an evil Sorceress by his very own father.
Fine. So I’m cheating a bit here, because this is a series, but let me live my life. In my defense, most of these are short novellas and only one of them is a full-length book, so it’s basically one big book all crammed together (because the stories all connect. In the Murderbot Diaries, a socially anxious and reclusive droid unit (known in its own head as “Murderbot”) perfects a blend of dry humour, sarcasm, and resentment that’s to die for. I’ve never been accused of being a robot, but it’s been a while since I related this strongly to a character’s inner monologues. The narrator is a security unit tasked with protecting the humans under its care, so naturally you know that everything goes wrong and Murderbot actually has to stop watching serials and do his job. (Big sigh.)
- Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (fantasy)
Last but not least, this particular recommendation strays into darker territory to be sure. Tess of the Road weaves a young woman’s coming-of-age narrative with the stories of her childhood, when her curiosity and fascination with life and adventure was turned against her in all the worst ways. Tess was raised to believe that she was and is everything that is wrong with the world. If she could only be more like her younger twin sister — and, therefore, less of everything she is herself — the world would be a better, purer, safer place. But then she goes and lets her habits get the better of her instead, and commits “the worst act imaginable” (so she’s told). Rachel Hartman has crafted the perfect blend of magic, dragons, worldbuilding, and unique languages and cultures, alongside some of the most intimately familiar challenges of the female experience in a world steered by staunchly religious and patriarchal ideals. My heart broke for Tess over and over as I read this book, but even more striking and disarming was that my heart then broke for myself.
Note the following trigger warnings for this one: child abuse, religious abuse, pregnancy, child birth, child loss, sexual assault, rape, misogyny.
Yeah, that’s quite the rap sheet. Take care of yourself first, and if that means you don’t read Tess of the Road, I will respect you all the more for it. But if you do read it, and if you, like me, grew up in a conservative (especially evangelical and religious) environment where you were taught that your body is a source of great sin and/or evil, I see you. We were taught a lie. But we can unlearn it.
I love you and we are not alone 💙