Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so.

The Goblin Emperor—Katherine Addison
Another fantasy about an unexpected inheritance, this time with an Imperial Court, deadly intrigues, arcane names, formal language, and delightful steampunk inventions. Maia, the half-goblin youngest son of the Emperor, has been raised in exile with only a vicious, embittered uncle for company. When his father and siblings are wiped out by a sabotaged airship he inherits the throne and finds himself, aged eighteen, at the heart of a court of ritual, obligation, and treachery. Maia is despised for his mixed birth, his looks, his age, his education, his instincts, everything. He’s underestimated, disrespected, plotted against and almost murdered, and yet somehow he emerges triumphant. He finds allies, learns to trust himself and to make decisions that are definitely not ones his father would have approved of, solves the mystery of his family’s murder, begins to change the Court and the country for the better and even, in the end, finds a fierce and rather wonderful bride. I have to admit, I find the complicated names tiresome, but I love watching Maia gradually find his feet and claim his birthright.

All these books start with a broken world and end with one that’s fixed, or is well on the way to being fixed. They have great heart and strong values without ever resorting to theme-mongering. The personal happy endings for the main characters are the cherry on top. These stories leave me feeling happy and centered.

Which books do you turn to when you need to put the world to rights?

9 thoughts on “Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

  1. Oh, I love fox tales! I wonder if I dare try the book? I wouldn’t want to mess up my own voice in the matter, if I ever get around to doing one about foxes.

    I’ve had a good reading week, with a book by Bujold and a book by Heyer — both were lovely re-reads. I really need to take the time to re-organize my bookshelves, though! I’ve got my Heyers all together, but the Bujolds, Crusies and some other series that I like (Rivers of London, Betsy the Vampire, the Pratchetts) are scattered around the house, or still in the bags that I lent them in. Time to get them put together! And start making wishlists so my family can fill in the gaps at Christmas . . . I know I’m behind in several series.

    • I *think* you’d like the Forthright book, Michaeline. The voice is very different from yours, so hopefully it wouldn’t influence you if you decided to write a fox tale in the future. And selfishly, I’d love you to read it because I’d be fascinated to hear your opinion, especially the Japanese aspects of the story. It seems to me to be a fantastic blend of East and West, but what do I know, except that I loved the story?

      I’ve also been re-reading some Bujold–her Wide Green World/Sharing Knife and Chalion fantasy books. I really like the Wide Green World story–it’s a very practical, down-to-earth kind of fantasy. Great world-building, and another really good world-fixing restorative!

        • Oh, good! I hope you like it. The story breaks some of the rules we learned in class in a way I enjoyed and think you might too.

          I have my fingers firmly crossed for the next book in the series, which publishes next week. Stand by for another squee if I enjoy it as much as this one 😉

        • (-: About 80 percent done with it. I like it a lot, but it’s switched from a regular story to an Origin Story in the last few chapters (I think). That means, instead of concentrating on the now, there’s a lot of stuff in there about what’s going to happen. A hint is cool. Paragraphs? Bogging down the action. The pacing is really odd — not saying its good or bad. It’s just that the romance progresses at a glacial pace, then suddenly flares up, then hits the next level without really resolving on level one, if you know what I mean.

          It’s VERY Japanese. I’m going to have to look up this Forthright. Hits a lot of the right spots, there, and with so many people who have lived in Japan for work, I think there’s an audience for a little Japan nostalgia.

          (-: The one clunker on the international scene wasn’t even with the Japanese part; it was when the British people were having “cookies” — as a Japanese, Tsumiko would have distinct ideas about what constitutes a cookie, and what constitutes a biscuit, I think. So, this clunk might be more revealing of my world views than anything else.

          Very, very manga/anime influenced, though. The romantic little throwaway lines about moonbeams, for example. Or the way Argent can swoop Tsumiko up in his arms and float to earth, like Howl in the movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle.

          I am enjoying it quite a bit!

        • Very interesting, Michaeline, thanks, and glad you’re enjoying it! Funny, I never noticed about the cookies (and that’s not a British term at all). I really like Argent’s expressive fox tails.

          I know what you mean about the pacing of the romance. When I thought about it afterwards, I thought the progression was more consistent than I’d realised, in that he’s become so much less than he should/could be, that she has to give strength back to him, and then freedom of choice, and then power over their personal bond, all within the constraints of the enslavement, before he can truly choose and court her. There are also some nice, sneaky reveals near the end that show he’s been indulging in courtship behaviour on the sly for much longer than Tsumiko or the reader realises.

          I hadn’t paid sufficient attention to the moonbeams! They will be an added treat next time I re-read the story.

        • Flipping the gender is a great way to talk about things that are hard to talk about. In this relationship, Tsumiko has all the power in the beginning, and she’s trying to deal with her privilege in a sane way, as well as promote Argent’s rights and status. I think Argent’s sly courtship behavior is also a gender-flip, at least in traditional romance terms.

          To some extent, there’s also “how much of this is subconscious, and how much is this known?” Both Darcy and Elizabeth can’t pinpoint when they fell in love; it was a subconscious process before it was conscious. And, here, too, I’m not quite sure Argent knows when he stopped “hating” her and started loving her. As romance readers, we see it from the beginning, in those weird twinges of feeling.

          The pacing of the romance, though — I hope I’m not spoiling it for anyone, so don’t look if you haven’t read! Slow burn, slow burn, sudden turning point, BABY!!, quick wrap up and into the engagement period. (-: Also, this was a very sensuous book (loved the tails, too — reminds me of the hair-touching meme of different books), but we don’t see very far in the bedroom, and I think I’m OK with that. As an ending, though, it was a bit epi-logue-y.

          All in all, a good read, though! I need to get my current projects wrapped up so I can head into something with foxes with a clear mind. I’ve been thinking about foxes for a good 15 years! Maybe more! Maybe since I was eight . . . .

  2. The problem with book reviews on here is it makes me want to give up writing for three or four months and just read.

    I really admire these authors for taking on fixing the world. I find just fixing my protagonist’s little circle challenging enough.

    • I know! Writing about books I love also makes me want to go on a lovely long reading binge!

      Fixing the wider world is good. Fixing a protagonist’s world can be very satisfying read, too. Works for Heyer, and she’s one of the best pick-me-ups I know!

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