29. The Hidden Goddess by M.K. Hobson
I very much enjoyed the second of Emily Edwards' adventures with her very impressive (though possessed of a somewhat dubious history) fiancé, Dreadnought Stanton. This time, their problem is an ancient, angry goddess who wants to bring her lover back to life and kick start the apocalypse in the process.
Along the way, Emily learns how very personally she is involved in all of this, and the mystery of who her parents were and why she was orphaned in the Sierra Nevadas at a very young age become much clearer, but the answers are not always pleasant. Also unpleasant is the fact that Mr. Stanton's past as a sangrimancer is not as far behind him as either of them would like, and Emily has to face up to some very nasty things that the man she loves has done. (Which, incidentally, leads to some really interesting reflection on her part… as someone who has been attracted to a lot of characters with dark pasts, the way that she wrestles with the "How can I love someone who's done things like this?" question is really good.)
I have to give the book credit for this: there were parts where I was not certain at all that things were going to turn out well. This is not the kind of book where I am usually truly concerned that things might actually go badly, so the fact that I was, if only for a chapter or two, is quite a feat.
Another unique thing I really like about this series is the way that magic works. There isn't just one universal way of using it, there are lots of them. For instance, credomancy is public relations on steroids, sangrimancy is blood magic, but there are lots of other types that work as well, as is evidenced by the powerful Medicine Woman we met in the first novel, and by Emily and her Pap's own earthy brand of spell work. All of these types coexist, and it takes several of them working together to keep the apocalypse from happening.
Emily is a practical heroine who I like quite a bit, and I really love her insistence that true love, though it can't fix everything (what can?) is at least a start. That, right there, is the reason this series hits my "redemption arc" narrative kink so hard it hurts.
30. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I first heard about this book on a "best books of 2011" radio program I was listening to on the way to work. I was intrigued from the start, and it seemed to be something that was right up my alley while at the same time being a little different from the fantasy I'm used to reading. After searching in our local library's database and finding that if I wanted to read it, I'd best get in line behind the 47 other people who had already placed holds on it. "So much for that," I thought, until I decided to check the library of the college where I was giving a final, and they had it. (Most likely thanks to the awesome new librarian, who is young, hip, and fannish, and makes sure that the "leisure reading" section is well-stocked.)
Anyway, the book was worth the search.
It reads like a fairy tale, rich in contrasts and imagery, with each word carrying a weight of grandeur and mystery and a world that is both incredibly complex and intimately present. The story is about some pretty Big Things. Love and magic, the human response to beauty, artistic genius, the importance of community, the price of immortality…
Really, though, it's about a bet between two magicians and the circus where the challenge is played out. There are all kinds of interesting characters—Marco and Celia, the two "players" the two magicians have chosen to represent them, the twins born on the opening night of the circus, the clockmaker who made the clock that sits over the circus entrance, and the boy from a small farm whose life in inextricably connected with the circus and its black and white tents.
The circus itself, though, is a major presence in the novel, almost a character in itself. Fantastic, strange (the whole place in monochromatic… all of the tents, all of the performers, all of the animals in black and white and shades of grey), and wonderful. It's described with such texture and attention to detail that it seems like it might just actually set up just down the road from the edge of town one evening.