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?