The Hollow Places, by T. Kingfisher – When a woman named Kara is going through a divorce, she moves in with her uncle, a conspiracy-minded man who doesn’t believe in evolution until he figures he needs to in order to account for Bigfoot. He runs a museum full of taxidermy and other bizarre items, and Kara helps him run it and catalog the exhibits. While her uncle is away, she discovers that the museum contains a portal to a strange world full of willows, which she visits with her sassy gay friend Simon. While they manage to escape, the world tries to draw them back, and some of the exhibits come to life. The basic idea for the evil willows comes from Algernon Blackwood’s novella “The Willows.” It’s a pretty creatively creepy tale, and the museum seems fascinating.
A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow – This story takes place in a world where mythical beings live alongside humans. There’s a significant amount of prejudice against sirens, the official reason being that they can control people with their songs. It doesn’t help that all known sirens are Black, increasing the prejudice against them. The focus here is on a teenage siren named Tavia and her adopted sister Effie, who is some kind of supernatural being, but she isn’t sure what kind. She uses the Renaissance Fair as a way to cope with the difficulties in her life. The chapters switch between the perspectives of the two of them. The book deals with the relationship between the two and their navigation of an unfair world, with a lot of social commentary. Another character is a gargoyle who stays on top of the sisters’ house.
The Quarter Storm, by Veronica G. Henry – Another book by the author of Bacchanal, this one is about a Haitian-American woman who runs a Vodou practice in New Orleans. When the police, including Reina’s sometime boyfriend, try to pin a murder on a fellow practitioner, she investigates the case herself, utilizing her magical skills. There were some aspects to this book that I quite liked. Its exploration of Vodou as a religion and the prejudice against its practice was handled well, and Reina is a likeable character. It did seem a little slow, though, and I found it difficult to follow in places. There’s a fair amount in the book about preferring the spelling “Vodou” to “Voodoo,” but I still have the latter in my post tags. I guess it’s something like how “Hindoo” used to be a common spelling, but now it’s considered derogatory. The problem presumably isn’t with the actual letters used, but that their usage coincided with offensive portrayals of these traditions.
Night and Silence, by Seanan McGuire – I’m still making my way through the October Daye series, and this one expands even more upon the lore. Toby’s daughter Gillian has once again disappeared, and it turns out the deposed Queen of the Mists is responsible. We also find out more about Gillian’s stepmother Miranda, who had an affair with Oberon, and hence a greatly extended lifespan. And she’s not only had fairy children, but Toby is her granddaughter, making her relationship with Toby’s ex even more disturbing. Her real name is Janet, and she’s the character from the ballad of Tam Lin. Due to her experiences, she’s very much opposed to the fae in general, and has been making sure her changeling stepdaughter didn’t know about them. And the Luidaeg, in order to save Gillian’s life, turns her into a Selkie.The accompanying novella, Suffer a Sea-Change, tells this part of the story from Gillian’s point of view, with her having to adapt to her new form and learn more about the fairy world she’s once again become part of.
The Young Merlin Trilogy, by Jane Yolen – I don’t think I’d previously read anything by Yolen, although I’ve certainly heard of her. I seem to recall her being mentioned in connection with Phyllis Ann Karr, probably due to their both writing Arthurian fiction, and of course I know of Karr from Oz fandom. These three books are all named after kinds of hawks, Passager, Hobby, and of course Merlin. The connection of the wizard’s name to hawks might be a coincidence; as I’ve written before, the name comes from the Welsh Myrddin, and there’s a theory that it was changed to sound less like the French for “shit.” These books chronicle Merlin’s early life, and are based partially on the Vita Merlini, a poem sometimes attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth about the character living as a wild man out in the woods. In Passager, he’s a feral child abandoned by his parents, who is found and adopted by a falconer, hence the name Merlin. In Hobby, his new family dies in a tragic fire, and he’s forced to accompany a thief for a while before joining up with a sleight-of-hand magician and his wife. These characters are named Ambrosius, like the legendary British war leader whose attributes were eventually transferred to Merlin himself; and Vivien, like the Lady of the Lake who is sometimes said to have caused Merlin’s death, or at least a long imprisonment. Finally, Merlin tells of his capture by wild people in the forest, and his friendship with a boy he names Arthur. Of course, these characters play different roles than in what might be considered the more orthodox version of the Arthurian saga, but, as with most myths and legends, there really is no official version. Throughout the trilogy, Merlin learns of his power of prophetic dreams, and eventually develops actual magic. They’re all very short, and things tend to proceed from one event to the next without much development, but hey, they are children’s books.