First published in issue four of Cinders
Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
Nora and Kettle is a novel I stumbled upon while reading recommendations for fairytale fantasy online. After purchasing the book, I binged the whole story in one morning. The compelling little novel is a re-telling of Peter Pan but from a very different perspective. Set in 1950s New York in the aftermath of WWII our ‘Peter’ is a Japanese-American runaway, nicknamed Kettle who is terrified of having his band of lost children (other Japanese runaways) discovered and re-homed.
Nora is our ‘Wendy’, the daughter of a wealthy public defender, she has much more reason than a lust for adventure to want to leave home. She is trapped in an incredibly abusive home where she has no defender. Her only reason for staying is her constant defence of her younger sister. The scenes of domestic violence are vivid and claustrophobic and make the book worth reading. The portrayal of the discrimination against the Japanese characters is ever present and uncomfortable too. Even though Nora and Kettle take a long time to meet, and the climax comes together a bit too quickly, the novel is a fascinating re-imaging of a period of time in America that is often forgotten and is well worth a read.
The Accident Season by Moira Fowley Doyle
I picked up The Accident Season in preparation for Moira Fowley Doyle’s release of The Spellbook of the Lost and Found (out now). And I was blown away by the impactful little novel. If magical realism is your thing – then you can’t go far wrong with this. Set in the West of Ireland it tells the story of a family who are subject to ‘The Accident Season’ every October. Each year they are forced to avoid dangerous scenarios that have led to death in the past. Corners are covered up, stairs are avoided, pain is had. Fowley Doyle mines a lovely story of teenage love and loss around the simple premise. The characters all read like apparitions out of a dream but it suits the story well. There is a magic in these pages that burrows deep. With dark frightening secrets buried in their past the threads of the family to come undone as they build towards the height of the Accident Season. As we read and peel back the layers of fantasy and story we see the power of believing in magic for these characters as a hindrance and a help. An enchanting novel that will keep you looking for magic in unexpected places.
Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Flame in the Mist is the eagerly anticipated opening novel in a new series by Renée Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn.) Set in feudal Japan, the story was marketed as a ‘reimagining of Mulan’ – a description I found misleading for many reasons, first of which being that Mulan is Chinese – it does hit some familiar story beats, but not many. The most glaring similarity is that Mariko decides to dress as a boy for the majority of the story. After a failed attempt on her life intelligent Mariko walks away from her planned betrothal to the emperor’s son and dresses as boy in order to get her revenge. Her quick thinking and knack for inventions help her infiltrate the Black Clan – a dangerous group of mercenaries. Against the odds, Mariko is welcomed among them although she faces the usual problems that girls who dress as boys in stories usually do. Although this is a well worn trope, Flame in the Mist is still a fun, and compelling. It’s not quite as good as The Wrath and the Dawn but still a fun weekend read.