Have you read Pantomime yet? I read it over six months ago, and it's so very memorable that despite having read and written about dozens of books since, it's stayed with me more clearly than anything else I've read yet this year. I have no doubt whatsoever that come December, it'll be very high up on my Favorites of 2013 list.
Pantomime is about sixteen-year-old Micah Grey, who gets caught trespassing at a circus and then ends up getting hired on as one of their new aerialists. It's about identity and control, acceptance and love, family and friends and self. It's a fantasy novel that read and feels like historical fiction; Micah's voice is original and believable and honest; it has stellar world-building and complex character development and enormous emotional impact, and I am dying for the sequel. DYING.
Due to the theme of Laura's list, if you want to remain spoiler-free, you might want to read the book BEFORE you read the list, but believe you me, once you've read the book, you'll very definitely want to check it out! And now, here's Laura:
I’ve been a bookworm as long as I can remember. So much so that my friends for a time called me Nose-in-a-Book at school, as I was that kid reading while walking between classes.
I’m a promiscuous reader and love reading across genres, so for the list of 10 books I’ll do: 3 adult fiction, 4 non-fiction, and 3 YA fiction.
1. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen: I read this book after I’d already started Pantomime, but I wanted to see how other authors treated the themes and motifs of circuses in fiction. This one worked the best for me, as I really liked the interpersonal relationships between the members of the circus.
2. The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch: I love the worldbuilding in this book, the first instalment of the Gentleman Bastard series. Camorr is a land based a little bit on Venice, and there’s a couple of similarities between it and the land of Ellada. I actually swore out loud when I read it for the first time because he has Elderglass worked into the architecture of the city. My Penglass is different, as no one knows what’s inside them, but it was a strange moment of synchronicity.
3. Any book ever by Robin Hobb, but especially Assassin’s Apprentice: Robin Hobb is my favourite author, and I’ve read her books more time than I can count. I love her prose, her world-building, and the way her characters get under your skin. This book is about the bastard son of a prince being chosen to become an assassin, but at the same time it’s so much more. I don’t think Pantomime would be the book it became without Hobb’s influence.
4. Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, by Alice Domurat Dreger: This was the first research book I read on intersex issues for Pantomime, and it was the book that made me realise that even though I was scared, this was a book I had to at least try my very best to tell. I didn’t realise how terribly intersex people were treated in the 19th century (called hermaphrodites back then), and how in some ways our treatment of people with ambiguous genitalia hasn’t changed much since then. The 19th century was when medical professionals went from displaying them as interesting subjects to actively trying to “fix” them with surgery. You can see a longer review of it here.
5. Intersex, by Catherine Harper: Another very valuable book that looked at how intersex people are treated in modern times. Some of the stories brought me to tears and made me so very angry and sad.
6. The Circus and Victorian Society, by Brenda Assael: This was the most useful research book on history as it focused on how it reflected Victorian sensibilities. It looks at the beginnings of the circus as low-brow entertainment on fairgrounds and how it transformed to lavish affairs in amphitheatres performed for royalty. It looks at equestrians, clowns, and women and children performers. A longer review can be found here.
7. Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-First Century, by Marina Warner: I read this book in university as part of a Folk Religion and Magic anthropology class, right when I was first contemplating the character of Micah Grey and world-building. At times incredibly dense, it still taught me a lot. From the jacket copy: “Warner tells the unexpected and often disturbing story about shifts in thought about consciousness and the individual person, from the first public waxworks portraits at the end of the eighteenth century to stories of hauntings, possession, and loss of self in modern times. She probes the perceived distinctions between fantasy and deception, and uncovers a host of spirit forms--angels, ghosts, fairies, revenants, and zombies--that are still actively present in contemporary culture.”
Young adult fiction
8. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld: I love this series, which is a steampunk look at WWI. One of the main characters is a girl disguised as a boy, which was a long fascination with me growing up. I love the idea of girls doing whatever boys can do, but then I decided to write a book where even when the girl is dressed as a boy, it’s not a disguise, either.
9. The Bone Doll’s Twin, by Lynn Flewelling: I read the first instalment of the Tamir Triad when I was 15. Two twins are born, but the mad king is killing all female heirs to the throne because of a prophecy. So they disguise the girl twin as a boy, but to do so they have to use dark magic and kill the male twin. No one tells Tobin that he’s really Tamir, and he grows up in a secluded keep. Deliciously creepy, it’s a great read.
10. His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman: Last but not least, I love above all how deliciously clever His Dark Materials trilogy is. I love Will and Lyra and I want a daemon so much. Excellent books that deserve the success they’ve had.