Hello, I’m Strix! Keikii scouted me, so for better or for ill I’m here to tell you about the books I’m reading.
First thing to know about me: I like to read books that punch above my weight-class. It makes me feel smart and stupid at the same time, and it broadens my horizons. When I’m not reading those, I’m in love with genre fiction. I’ll read sci-fi until I drop, and fantasy to pick me back up again. I’ve recently fallen in love with paranormal romance as well – they tend to be cliched, sure, but a happy couple makes me happy.
Here are five books that I’ve selected to give you a good look at my tastes. All of them are exceptional (in my opinion) and I’d be down to reread them at any time, just to relive the experience.
Cyteen, by CJ Cherryh: I’m that sci-fi reader, the type who takes an impenetrable brick and claims it’s worth your time. Thing is, this book is absolutely worth the effort it takes to get into it. CJ Cherryh is my favorite author. She’s responsible for taking me out of my biggest non-reading slump and lifting me back into books. Even after I’d devoured most of her works, it still took me two tries to get into Cyteen – but it paid off.
It’s about a human colony that’s so far removed from Earth it’s declared its independence and it won that war. On that colony, a prominent politician and scientist is murdered. This book isn’t a whodunnit. You can guess, but it will never answer that question directly. Instead, the focus is on the attempts of the murdered woman’s allies to clone her and raise that clone to be as perfect a replica of her as possible.
The first several hundred pages set the scene. They show this woman wielding her power, destroying a young man’s life and remoulding it, and then her murder.
The rest of the book has two protagonists: her clone, and the man she destroyed. It is, without a doubt, not a romance. Instead it’s a coming of age, an untangling of oblique motives, an exploration of a future society that employs clone labor, brainwashing methods to shape people and teach people, and more. The question is: how do you become someone? And what should humanity become, if it can shape others in this way?
Big questions, big book. I’ve read it twice and I always find something new in it.
Trigger warnings: rape, psychological manipulation, slavery, some violence. It’s not the kind of book that fetisizes awful things, but it doesn’t flinch. Take care of yourself.
Jani Killian Chronicles by Kristine Smith: I’m already breaking pattern, but these five books work best as a single unit, even if they’re episodic in structure. They’re a set of sci-fi novels set in a future where humans have met another alien species and set up embassies on their home planet. There are shared colonies, there’s peace despite ugliness in the past, and this setting utterly defines Jani Killian, one of my favorite protagonists.
Jani Killian is a documents examiner, a former soldier, a sick and possibly dying woman, and her government thinks she’s dead. If they thought otherwise, they’d hunt her down and execute her. This series changes her, and never flinches from how sick she is.
The first book is a mystery. Jani’s living on a colony far from Earth, and she’s tracked down by an old flame who asks her to investigate his wife’s death. The second book gets deeper into the human/alien relations – there are those who want to get the aliens off Earth, and they’ll do anything to stop it. The third and the fourth build off of this and build and it’s a proper series with an arc and a finale and an ending.
But let me back up a moment: I can’t use adjectives to describe Jani because she’ll seem like every heroine ever: tough, brings chaos in her wake, smart, bossy, etc etc. The thing is, this book doesn’t make her perfect, with interesting flaws. She’s so independent that isolates her from help. She’s smart but she overlooks things. She grows through the series, never losing her core strength. She’s easily one of my favorite protagonists in any book I’ve read.
And her love life! Oh yes, there is romance in these books. There’s a hot blond and it’s not a perfect romance, but damn if it doesn’t get to me.
This is one of those series where I go around begging people to read it because they’re criminally obscure and I love them.
Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic: Now here’s a book above my weight-class. It is a bizarre thing: you can read it in any order. Three different dictionaries have been placed into one volume, and every entry is a story, a biography, a description, something odd. Some entries go on for pages, some are short. Together they all paint a portrait of the Khazars, a real people who lived in Transylvania between the seventh and ninth centuries.
It’s not historical fiction, however. It’s strange tales about these peoples and their conversion to another religion (which one? good question, that’s a central mystery) and their dream hunters and so on.
This isn’t a book where I go “I love this, I love that”, it’s the kind of book where I’ve approached it many times over the years and examined bits of it, studying it. I’ve read it back to front, I’ve read it front to back and piecemeal and all kinds of ways and I don’t understand it. I understand pieces of it.
The language – a translation – is artwork. The imagery sublime.
The dang thing was published in two editions with the only difference being a single paragraph. Why? Milorad Pavic!
This is the kind of book I want others to read so they can marvel at it as I do.
To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts: It’s either this or Warhosts of Vastmark, and telling you about an epic fantasy series that’s still ongoing is a difficult process, so let’s go with one of the best standalone fantasy works I’ve ever read. The writing is sumptuous, descriptive and rich. The pacing is fast, and the entirety of the plot takes place over only a few days.
It’s about a princess who goes missing the night of her betrothal banquet, the guard captain who gets tapped to lead the search to find her, and the unfolding tangle of intrigue, politics, and the potential of dark magics at work. It’s about horses, and past wounds and ambitious men.
It is, in short, a near perfect portrait of what I enjoy out of classic fantasy. Medieval kingdoms with closer-to-accurate social orders. Intelligent characters working with obscure rules. Tangled loyalties. And yes, again: horses. Halfway through the book it shifts from mystery to an intense horse chase through Hell’s Chasm, and damn if it isn’t a nailbiter.
This is another book I beg people to read. If the writing style fits, it’s a treat and if you want more of the author, she’s written a massive and excellent fantasy series that you should join me in devouring. If the writing style doesn’t fit, run! Janny Wurts loves writing thick books and she never stops!
Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh: And here is easily the worst book on this list, but damn you this thing made me feel things in my heart. It is the balm to my pessimism, it is the sweet hot tea after a long hard day, it is about the world’s hottest leopard shifter falling in love with the world’s hottest psychic and the trials they go through in order to get together.
There’s a murder! There’s been multiple murders and the leader of the leopard pack suspects that the psychics who control the world are behind it. To that end he investigates by flirting with a high-ranking psychic lady, severely testing the limitations the psychics have put on themselves: they don’t have emotions. If they ever have emotions, they have to be taken away and psychically lobotomized.
(Surprise, I like this book becaue it’s not just sweet and fun but because the setting is horrific and interesting!)
Our heroine has been feeling emotions all of her life and has been desperately hiding them from everyone, because she doesn’t want to be lobotomized. But damn if this leopard isn’t hot.
Drama and action ensue, along with hot sex and explorations of the psychic internet. It’s easily the most fun I’ve had with a book in months, with a happy ending guaranteed, a billion sequels and just – yes. I love this silly thing and while it touches on horrific things it doesn’t beat you over the head with them. I like that. I really like it a lot.
… And that’s all I’ve got for now! I’m always reading more, but unlike Keikii I read 4-10 books at a time so it takes me a while to finish things. But boy if I don’t have opinions on what I read… Anyways, looking forward to writing more for you!