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Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Adventure and even Romance, OH MY!: Gideon the Ninth and Darwinia

11 Aug

Some works are easier to categorize then others.  Two speculative fiction books that easily defy classification, however, are Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (2019) and Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson (1999).  Both although heavier on fantasy also have elements of horror, science fiction and even a little mystery and romance.  We read both of the titles for the Hoboken Public Library’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group which meets monthly.  You can see the complete list of all the past works we have discussed on our website.

Gideon the Ninth
by Tamsyn Muir
Gideon the Ninth is the first novel by New Zealand writer Tamsyn Muir and the start of her Locked Tomb/Ninth House trilogy.  Each of nine planets is ruled by a noble house that practices some kind of necromancy. Although advanced technology for space travel exists, necromancy and close combat ritual fighting are the norm.  Gideon must travel with Harrow, her best frenemy to the another of the planets for an important meeting between all the houses.  The book discussion group overall enjoyed this novel.  If you can imagine a gothic novel with a haunted house in space than you can get an idea of the originality and interesting setting and story for this novel.

by Robert Charles Wilson
We read Darwinia this past July with the book discussion group.  If Gideon the Ninth depicts a future that seems uniquely imagined than Darwinia does the same for the past.  Set when the novel opens in 1912, the earth has experienced a surprising “miracle” overnight.  Europe and all the countries there have been replaced with a mysterious new land filled with giant insect like creatures which Wilson vividly describes.  The novel starts with an exhibition taken by a photographer to capture the new wilderness, but as the novel unfolds there are many mysteries to unravel and a surprising science fiction twist.  Like much of the group I felt the ending could have been stronger, but I felt the first ¾ of the novel were captivating and worth checking out.  Fans of HP Lovecraft and gaslight fantasy will likely be intrigued by the novel.

Our next Science Fiction and Fantasy book discussion will be discussing Klara and the Sun on Thursday, July 28.  If you are mystery fan you will also want to check out the Hoboken Public Library’s monthly Mystery Book Discussion group.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

A Richly Detailed Historical Novel: Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

21 Jul

Since my mother’s ancestors date back to John Alden, a crew member on the historic 1620 Mayflower voyage, I’ve always been fascinated, as a Mayflower descendant, by the history of the Pilgrims as well as with their customs and lifestyle. Therefore, when I came across Chris Bohjalian’s enthralling new historical novel Hour of the Witch, I was inspired to read it, because of my proud New England roots and my penchant for Puritan history.

Set in 17th century early Boston, Bohjalian’s engrossing new novel focuses on the Puritans as they establish themselves in the new world and develop a strict set of values, beliefs, and laws. Mary Deerfield is a young and feisty Puritan woman who has married Thomas, an older man, who is not only an alcoholic, but is physically and verbally abusive. Unfortunately, she has not been able to bear him any children, so he berates her for failing as a wife.

Mary is faithful and resourceful but fears the demons that plague her soul. So, she plots her escape from a violent and unfortunate marriage. During a drunken rage, however, Thomas drives a three-tined fork, a symbol of the devil, into the back of her hand. She then resolves that she must divorce Thomas to save her life. During this time, however, divorce is highly uncommon and only raises suspicion by her neighbors and the townsfolk that she is probably an unfit wife with a tainted soul.

Naturally, her petition for a divorce is not granted and she is forced to continue with her unhappy marriage to a cruel and violent man. As she attempts to come to terms with this defeat, their jealous servant girl, with eyes for Thomas, accuses Mary of witchcraft, when she discovers a three-tined fork and a pestle, engraved with the wicked fork, in Mary’s apron. Now Mary must endure a harrowing trial, reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, where she must defend herself and her very character. She must now not only fight to escape her marriage, but also the gallows.

Bohjalian’s twisting and tightly plotted story is filled with a riveting cast of characters and richly detailed history about the early Puritans. The dark and sinister second half of the book kept me spellbound and rooting for Mary’s vindication and freedom. She is truly an intelligent, well rounded, and respectable woman ahead of her times and readers will identify with her and sympathize with her plight. The story’s surprise ending, certainly caught me off guard, and gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

You can borrow it in print from BCCLS libraries or as an ebook from elibraryNJ or eBCCLS as an ebook.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Reference Librarian

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