Last updated on May 20, 2020
*This article is reprinted from a feature of the May 21, 2020 edition of J. Elizabeth Vincent’s monthly newsletter, Outlandish Tidings . If you would like to receive the newsletter with author updates, book reviews, and fantasy book features and deals, please sign up here.
Women of Wasps and War by Madeleine D’Este (Kindle Ebook)
Earlier this week, I finished Women of Wasps and War by fellow indie author and online friend Madeleine D’Este. I did not leave any reviews in online stores for this book and hesitated to even write about it here (I prefer to leave only positive reviews), but I feel like the writing is strong enough to warrant giving D’Este a shoutout for those that are drawn to this sort of tale.
The book is labeled as a historical fantasy and is about the repercussions a group of women face in a patriarchal society after they have run the town for a year when the men were off to war and the soldiers finally return. Will the changes they have implemented remain? Will they even be taken seriously?
My main problem was the grimness of the tale. You can see this from the beginning, when Rabel, a young mother, hopes that her husband is not among the soldiers returning, that she will not have to return to the life of debt and abuse that he will undoubtedly bring with him. My “problem,” however, is a matter of personal taste. I have a strong preference for tales that provide a positive escape from the sometimes harsh world, not ones that reinforce it or make it seem even worse.
Despite that, however, D’Este’s writing is strong and engaging, and the book kept me up reading nearly all night. I’ll leave it at that to prevent spoilers.
My more objective complaint is that the fantasy in this historical fantasy was no more than a wisp. The Wasp Women that are part of the plot could easily be argued away as herbalists or simply schooled in natural science. There are not really any strong elements of magic and no supernatural creatures beyond the mention of what might have been a unicorn. The otherworld setting feels right in medieval fantasy, but it could have easily been transformed to any period-specific but imaginary town in our own world.
That said, if you enjoy grim, historical or historical fantasy tales with a strong voice and a focus on bringing light to some social injustices that arguably still exist in our world today, you might enjoy this book very much, and I encourage you to give it a try.
The Black Elfstone (The Fall of Shannara) by Terry Brooks (Chirp Audiobook)
As of a couple of days ago, I am listening to The Black Elfstone by Terry Brooks. I picked this up as Brooks is an old favorite of mine. I picked up my first Brooks book, The Sword of Shannara, over thirty years ago, and it was among the group of books that turned me into a full-fledged fantasy lover.
I’m only a few chapters into The Black Elfstone so far, but I’m afraid I might have stepped into GRIM territory again. However, having read so many of Brook’s tales, I’m hopeful that although bad things will happen (where would a good book be without them?), good will win out in the end. With the title of the series, however, maybe I’m being overly optimistic?
I guess I will see.
I’d love to hear what you’re reading this month. Feel free to comment below and tell me about your current favorites (or least favorites!).