So I’m slightly behind on my booklog (this entry is backdated by about two months), and I’m afraid I’m going to have to do some catchup posts. This one will be entitled “what I read on my Hawaiian vacation.”
So to start with, I’d had success reading a Courtney Milan novel on a previous flight; with a much longer flight, I loaded up the rest of Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series. The books were a little uneven—there’s some repetition with sciencey heroines and men whose main obstacle is their (of course inaccurate) rakish reputations—but fundamentally they kept me reading through a long flight, and I kept reading them on the beach and was sad when they were done. If you’re looking for the hits, I’d recommend The Heiress Effect and The Suffragette Scandal, but the way that each book picks up secondary characters from previous books and deepens them out is part of the fun, so just read them all; they’re good enough to justify it.
Next up was Ryan North’s How to Invent Everything. I love Ryan North’s writing, and this is a fun conceit for a pop-science/culture book. I read through it quickly, but… well, I grew up reading pop-science books, so there was less new here than would be ideal, and North’s voice is pitched somewhat YA. Enjoyable enough for adult readers, but highly recommended for yutes.
Finally, we have Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy. As this series starts, it’s really obviously a kind of Harry Potter deconstruction thing, like “what would it be like to be one of the other students at Hogwarts while Harry Potter is there having all this big adventures?” That might be an interesting premise for a short story, but it couldn’t possibly suppport a trilogy.
And it doesn’t. From that premise, Novik spirals out into an elaborate world-building exercise, trying to make that Hogwarts-style setting make any sense at all. And so the first book is about surviving a year at not-Hogwarts, and has good characters, interesting events, all the stuff you’d look for. But the second and third books broaden their perspective from there, and look at not just surviving the school, but making it better, and then interrogating what type of world needs a school like that in the first place.
If I have a criticism of the trilogy, it’s that the ending is a bit too pat—one of the big themes of the series is that there are hard tradeoffs in magic and society, but then the ending is a little too easy and uncomplicated. But it’s an absolutely propulsive read, one of those books that when I wasn’t reading it, I wanted to be reading it. No lie, on the last day as we were driving around and seeing the last sights of Hawaii, I kept thinking “we could just go to the airport and then I could read the rest of this book.” Great airplane reading, but also highly recommended if you’re not on an airplane.