Smugglivus Smugglivus Guest Author

Smugglivus 2013 Guest Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.

Who: Hugo-award winning author, Mary Robinette Kowal, novelist and professional puppeteer. Thea is a huge fan of her Alternate history/ Fantasy series and loved Without a Summer, published this year.

Mary Robinette Kowal Without a Summer

Please give it up for Mary, everybody.

When I’m looking for a book, I want something that hits me in the feels. I want a book that is full of complex situations — either action or social or both — because those are the ones that will give the most opportunities for character’s to be illuminated. Connie Willis once said, and I’m paraphrasing here because there was drinking involved, that she thought literary fiction required characters to over-react to situations to drive the drama and that in science-fiction and fantasy, characters were presented with extraordinary situations so could therefore react rationally.

I think that’s pretty much spot on, which is why I lean towards science-fiction and fantasy as a reader. For me, I think it gives a much more honest range of character relationships. As I said, I read for the feels.

Also for the gee whiz! and the sense of wonder. So the books that I was most excited about reading this past year are books that do that and they are books that surprised me.

A Natural History of Dragons

I was not expecting Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. I got an ARC, opened the first page to see what it was and ATE THE BOOK OH MY GOD THIS WAS WRITTEN FOR ME IT IS SO GOOD. Swashbuckling tale of travel to foreign lands? Check. Dragons? Check. Social commentary? Check. Pathos and drama? Check and check. This reads like a 19th century travel memoir if it were written by the Dowager Duchess from Downton Abbey and she just happened to have been a naturalist specializing in dragons in her youth. Dry wit, gorgeous descriptions, and dragons.

Emilie and the Hollow World

Similarly, I was not expecting Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells. Her book and mine shared a book birthday so I picked it up in a show of solidarity and, again, had that thing where I just ate the book in one sitting. Emilie is the sort of resourceful protagonist that you wish you had as a friend when you were a teenager. Heck, even now. She gets scared when it’s appropriate, then pulls herself together and does what needs doing anyway.

In addition to that, Martha Wells has created a wonderful secondary world with strong steampunk elements that should appeal to anyone who likes adventure fantasy. This is a vibrant tale that would sit nicely alongside Jules Verne, but with all the boring bits cut out. It’s so refreshing to see characters making intelligent choices in difficult situations.

Really, that’s all I ask. I just want characters who are smart, which is why I like science fiction and fantasy so much because it gives plenty of opportunity to be smart and to have that be enough. You don’t need artificial tension from characters who won’t talk to each other when you’re twenty thousand leagues below, thank you very much.

Both books made me cry. They made me wince, and they made me wonder.


Thank, Mary.

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  • Kailana
    December 10, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I really want to read both of these books! I also need to catch-up on Mary’s books!

  • Ita
    December 10, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    If you like Emily and the Hollow World, be sure to try her other books!! Martha writes the best strong female characters ever. All her books have meticulous world building behind fast-paced plots. And, even better, her characters have the same snarky senses of humor I do.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality)
    December 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    That novel by Marie Brennan has been sitting on my to-be-read stack for a while now, and I’m trying to figure out why I never got to it. I think this post finally pushed me over the edge!

  • MarieC
    December 11, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I really enjoyed Emilie and the Hollow World and reading this blog makes me want to do a re-read. On a side note, was anyone aware that there is a sequel coming? Emilie and the Sky World – 3/4/2014

  • Sara
    December 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    I’ve had A Natural History of Dragons on my to-read list for ages, but since my to-read pile is already resembling a scale model of Helm’s Deep, it may take me a little while to get around to it.

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