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Historical Fiction

Time’s Running Out: 5 Historical Fiction/Fantasy Novels To Read ASAP

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Yash Kesanakurthy

Staff Writer

Somewhere between starting her schooling in Saudi Arabia and finishing high school in Singapore, Yash Kesanakurthy realized that she disliked school. It was the fateful move to Vancouver, Canada for a BA in Economics (which, surprise, didn't pan out) that led her to the MA program in Children's Literature at UBC. She had fun immersing herself into the academia of children's literature but nothing beat the joy of writing for The Book Wars, being able to set aside classics and pay attention to the culture of contemporary YA. And now, everything is PB/MG/YA and nothing hurts. Well, some things hurt but nothing her bookshelf can't fix. Currently, she is working on her own YA fantasy novel and an all-ages picturebook. Her life goals include: getting a pet dog, getting published, and presenting you dear readers and Rioters with posts that engage and entertain. (Maybe not in that order?) Blog: The Book Wars Twitter: @SeeYashTweet

I mean, there’s no way I can finish these before the year is up, so I’m going to pretend January 2018 is December 2017 Part II if I have to because these historical fiction —fiction includes sf/f, yes?— novels have been waiting for me to read them since I’ve heard of them. *wails* And I heard of them all so early in the year!

What makes matters worse is the ability of each and every one of these novels to feel relevant, despite when/where their respective setting is. For example, colonization is always active in my imagination, because it’s active in my reality. Reading Everfair by Nisi Shawl—though it may be a steampunk reimagining of what-could-have-happened—still impresses upon me how little I learned about colonization outside of India. Everfair is turning out to be an impetus to do some research into some truly disturbing human rights violations, but the book itself offers more; it offers a surprisingly international narrative to an idea that could have been in a steam-powered alternate historical fiction: a refuge from King Leopold II. I’d initially begun this as an audiobook, but the number of Things To Google began to weigh on the listening experience. I’m excited to start over in print and it’s definitely the first book on my Time’s Running Out pile.

This next book, my friends won’t stop talking about, which makes it a time-sensitive book in more ways than one. The first reason I have to read S. A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass ASAP is because I have literally never seen an #OwnVoices fantasy novel like this one before. Especially not one that everyone and their mother have been talking so appreciatively about. The second reason is, my friends may not speak to me if I don’t read it and to be honest, I get it. The book is set in 18th century Cairo, has a female protagonist who happens to be a con woman, and also includes djinn, you know, for fun. The book is meant for me and clearly everyone who knows me has also noticed this fact.

The next book is tricky. I’ve read things by E. K. Johnston before and most of them can be described accurately in a sentence, but I cannot really come up with an elevator pitch for this one. Let me see. It is a historical novel, I believe? But, like Everfair, That Inevitable Victorian Thing uses the science fiction genre to create an alternate history where the sun truly never set on the British Empire. I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Johnston and I can’t lie, despite the premise that kind of hurts my pride as (self-proclaimed) ex-colony trash, I am very, very intrigued. Also, it’s set in Toronto! And the cover catches my eye every time I walk by the YA section of my work place. It’s fate. I need it in my life.

As for the fourth book on my list, I only feel the pressure to read Before The Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray because Tumblr keeps spoiling me on lovely moments that happen with a character that I adore. Ling, introduced in the previous book in this series, is possibly one of my favourite characters ever. Given how little I’ve read this year, that may not seem like much, but given how much I’ve read in all my life, yes, that is not a list one can waltz into with ease. I need to know how my girl Ling is doing and okay, maybe I will risk losing my friends and read this book after Everfair. For anyone who’s interested, the Diviners series is about: a diverse group of friends navigating their lives and the supernatural in jazz age New York City.

The last book on my Time’s Running Out pile is one that I heard about *cough* two years ago *shame face*: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez. This book is more about contemporary history, if that makes sense. Though it talks about issues that should have long been resolved. Set in Texas in 1937, Out of Darkness deals with the New London school explosion and connects it to issues of belonging, community, and segregation. I honestly think it’s one of those titles I put off reading until I felt less cowardly. I realize now that that’s not going to happen any time soon, so I might as well go ahead and deal with my feelings.