One of the cool things about speculative fiction (and I include science fiction and fantasy in that term) is the way it brings a new perspective on things that already exist, that we take for granted in our world, and gives us the opportunity to see these aspects of our world anew. Give yourself a break from the mundane with two new fantasy novels at the Field this February.
Take the idea of aristocracy and the concentration of wealth and power. Of course we have all kinds of historical examples of how aristocracy works or doesn’t work, and what happens when power concentrates in fewer hands, but leave it to a fantasy novel to take the idea to the next level. Gilded Cage, by Vic James, takes us to an alternate England where the aristocrats, ironically known as the Equals, all have magical abilities, and the rest of the population, the commons, serves them. It’s a requirement: all commoners must spend ten years working for the Equals in one form or another. Imagine the Victorian aristocrats with magic, and that’s disturbing right off the bat. But then consider what life would be like for the commoners. Abi, a young commoner, is working for one of the Equals families, and falls in love with the son of the family. Will she uncover the family’s secrets and gain her freedom, or will she give up the possibility of love? Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in one of the hellish factories far from his family and home, and falls in with revolutionaries with very different ideas of what “equality” really means, and how to get there. Is he going to risk his life for the chance to change the world? Gilded Cage, a debut novel (I will keep mentioning that whenever a book is a debut, for those doing the Reading Challenge this year; eventually there will be a list of suitable debuts), looks at the classic notion of magic and marries it to the classic ideas of a ruling class and lets the sparks fly.
I’ve already written about my love of Peter S. Beagle and his early novel, The Last Unicorn, which is one of my all-time favorite books. I am delighted to report that he’s just come out with another book, In Calabria, which is also about unicorns, though somewhat different from the unicorn in his other book. Here we start with a man, Claudio Bianchi, living by himself in the Southern Italian area of Calabria. An older man, set in his ways and suspicious of outsiders and any kind of change, Claudio is surprised one morning when he looks out his window and sees a pregnant unicorn in his yard. Charmed and perhaps even enchanted, he comes to her aid, and the kindness loosens the floodgates (so to speak), opening up his heart and the poetry he’s writing, but also bringing the world to his gates, as rumors spread that he has unicorns on his property. First there are the media and the thrill-seekers and trophy hunters, all trying to cash in, and then, in a more sinister way, an organized crime group comes to Claudio’s farm, demanding to buy it and the unicorns on it. Claudio has promised to protect the unicorn and her foal, and he discovers in himself new depths, new strengths, new magic. You know if it’s written by Peter S. Beagle, it’s going to be beautifully written and moving, and this book is even shorter than his wonderful Summerlong, so you have no excuse for not reading it as soon as you can.